A new hunting partner

Whether it’s friendship, dating, or marriage, a key to a strong relationship with anyone is having an understanding of someone’s passions.

I’ve known my wife Lyza for 21 years. We started dating over 13 years ago and have been married for seven of those. Lyza has always been a steadfast supporter of my outdoor adventures, whether I want to take a trip to Missouri to hunt snow geese, brave the elements chasing whitefish on Green Bay, or just want to spend some time decompressing after work by fishing at a local hot spot.

I spend hundreds of hours hunting and fishing each year and my wonderful wife always encourages me to keep chasing my passion for learning more about the natural world through those activities. She is always ready to listen to the stories of my latest adventures and allows me to prioritize my time in nature. I am incredibly lucky to have such an amazing partner and will forever be grateful for how fortunate I am to share this life with her.

But there is simply no substitute for the intimate knowledge that comes from sharing firsthand experiences with someone who is participating in an activity they hold dear. That’s what I learned when Lyza joined me on a duck hunting outing for the first time.

The opportunity came about organically. It was a Friday night and I was in the basement sorting decoys, getting ready for a solo duck hunting trip the following morning. The plan was to hunt one of my favorite spots in Ozaukee County that I hadn’t hunted yet this year.

Lyza had just returned from a shift at her second job as a waitress at her parents’ restaurant.

She came downstairs to say hello and catch up on the day’s events. When I mentioned to her I was planning on hunting alone in the morning because all of my hunting buddies had other obligations she replied, “well, I was thinking about offering to go with you.”

Those 10 words were enough to bring a smile to my face. “You are certainly welcomed to come along,” I said, as we began hammering out hypothetical logistics.

Up until this point, Lyza had only been hunting with me twice. She sat with me in my bow stand one time while completing a bird counting exercise for one of her college courses. The other occasion was another bow hunt about nine years ago.

Somewhere along the way, it was decided (though I am not sure who made the final call) Lyza would indeed join me in the marsh in a few hours.

We raided my hunting closet looking for some of my old camouflage clothing that would be as functional as it was comfortable. I tossed Lyza old long sleeves, hoodies, and hats. She set the rejects aside until we found a suitable ensemble.

With that out of the way, we turned our attention to untangling the remaining decoys and placing them in the old mesh bag I would use to bring them to our spot. This was a bit of a process, because some of these decoys hadn’t seen water in over a year. My friends have piles upon piles of decoys so, more often than not, I am not required to contribute to our spread.

With clothes selected, decoys packed, and the rest of our gear organized, we set our alarms and hit the hay.

The following morning, I woke up a little after 4 to get the truck packed before Lyza got out of bed about a half-hour later. The plan was to get to our spot a little more than an hour before shooting light to allow us sufficient time for the trek to the pond and decoy setup.

During the roughly 30-minute drive, I spoke with Lyza about the guarded optimism I had for the morning’s hunt. My scouting revealed little sense for optimism, but I was simply happy to get out and even happier that she was joining me.

When we arrived, I slipped into my waders, clicked my headlamp on, and gathered the bulk of our gear. I felt like Santa Claus with the decoy bag slung over one shoulder over the top of my backpack and gun case as we began our walk, a few hundred yards, to our spot for the day.

My headlamp provided the lion’s share of the illumination for our journey since we were in the midst of a new moon. I kept my head down as we walked, hoping to give Lyza a clear view of our path through the shrubs and tall grass. After a few minutes, I paused and looked around, trying to gain my bearings, since I felt we were surely close to our chosen pond.

That’s when I realized, in my efforts to provide light for the both of us, I had gotten a bit turned around. Ironically, this situation came mere hours after I bragged to Lyza that I “knew this spot like the back of my hand.” It’s amazing how darkness can play tricks on the mind.

I asked Lyza to hold her position and turn on the flashlight on her phone while lifting it up in the air as I ventured out into the black morning, in hopes of getting us back on track. Eventually, I was able to do that, and we arrived at our intended location. Nothing more than a minor hiccup.

Once we unpacked, I stepped into the pond to place our modest spread of decoys. As I ventured out of the tall grass, I was greeted by several yards of muck. The lack of recent rain meant water levels were dwindling. After taking a few more steps, I was pleased to learn there was enough water for this spot to be huntable, just not as much as I had been accustomed to.

Since the wind was negligible, I placed our 18 decoys on either side of our hideout, teal and wood ducks on one side, mallards on the other, leaving a nice pocket for the ducks to land in. With that handled, I returned to shore and finished unpacking the rest of my gear.

Lyza was seated to my left on my old fold-up camo hunting chair, covered by grass in front with dead trees behind her and to the left side.

“There are only a few rules,” I said. “Don’t point at anything. Sit when I sit. And cover your ears when I shoot.”

For late October, temperatures were quite comfortable. The low bottomed out around 38 degrees with the temperatures expected to climb near 60 before it was all said and done. The opening of shooting hours was fast approaching.

The first 15 minutes of any duck hunt is usually my favorite part. There’s just something about the anticipation that rises when the world begins to come into view during the day’s first rays of sunlight.

While they usually don’t give you the entire story, those 15 minutes are often a strong indicator of the type of day you are about to have, particularly in the first month of the season. If you see and hear ducks, you’re probably going to have some steady action throughout the remainder of the hunt. If you get to shoot, even better. But if the sky is empty in that timeframe, you could be in for a long one.

I pulled my phone out of the pocket of my waders. The clock said 6:43, one minute until opening. I was cautiously scanning the sky and listening for any indication of ducks in our area.

Locked, loaded, and ready to go, opening arrived. The unmistakable whistling of a pair of wings squealed over my right shoulder. Though I never saw the duck, the way in which the noise trailed off told me that bird was headed to the north. That little encounter was followed by 10 minutes of silence.

I glanced into the distance where I was able to make out the flashes of several sets of wings against the background of the orange and red foliage that was starting to come into focus.

“Ducks,” I said in an exaggerated whisper as I took a knee and reached for my calls.

Within moments, they were right on top of us. A flock of a dozen green-winged teal came screaming in from the west at, what seemed like, Mach 2.

After taking a brief peek at the decoys, the birds cruised right over the pond and behind us, disappearing just off Lyza’s left shoulder.

“Son of a bitch,” I whispered into my call.

I quickly pulled myself together and began a feeder call sequence on my trusty old Triple Threat. Before I reached the second stanza, the birds were back, still moving at an impressive clip. They banked in from the south, wings cupped, feet dangling. They were committed.

Naturally, they keyed-in on the half-dozen teal decoys that were floating to our left.

Letting the calls go in favor of my shotgun, I clicked the safety off and sprang up out of my crouch. I picked a bird out of the flock and let the Benelli speak its piece. As the duck fell to the water, I kept my head down and continued to swing the sight through the ensuing chaos.

I put the bead in front of another bird and cracked off another round. That one missed the mark.

The lovely perfume of gunpowder wafted its way into my nostrils as I trudged into the pond to retrieve my harvest. I brought my gun with me, just in case there were any stragglers.

With the bird in-hand, I made my way back to the blind breathing a little heavier than I probably should have been given the minimal amount of effort. Lyza giggled as I re-loaded and got myself organized.

“What’s so funny?”

“This is just cool,” Lyza replied.

“I agree,” I said with a smile and a chuckle.

To me, one duck doesn’t normally make a hunt successful. But this one did. I was over the moon that Lyza got a true taste of the duck hunting experience.

We spent the rest of the morning quietly chatting and enjoying the views that came along with the gorgeous day that was taking shape.

That initial flock ended up being the only ducks we saw. But, for me, this hunt was the highlight of my season. Not because of the number of birds harvested, but because of the quality of the experience and the special company I got to keep on that morning.

When we returned home, I plucked the bird so it could be part of one Lyza’s favorite recipes, “Teal in a Jar.” Though, we will need a few more birds to make a batch.

With everything cleaned up, I continued to reflect on just how fortunate I was to share an activity I loved so much with the person I loved the most. The fact we both enjoyed the experience was the ultimate cherry on top.

Fewer than four percent of the American public hunts. If that statistic is to ever change for the better, it will be because the demographic of hunters will look a lot different than the population of white males who currently dominate this space.

I feel bad admitting this but, it hadn’t really occurred to me that the first place I could look to add a little diversity to the world of hunting or, at least the group of people who don’t hunt but respect its viability as an active part of conservation, was under my own roof.

Do I expect Lyza to become an active hunter? No, but I would like to think this experience opened that door, ever so slightly.

If nothing else, it deepened her already impressive understanding of what hunting is and what it can mean to those who cherish it. It meant the world to me that she was even willing to join me on this hunt, especially being six-months pregnant.

And that is more than enough.

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