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The movie “No Country For Old Men” has never been one of my favorite movies. I didn’t go and pay to see it, but I have watched it numerous times on my satellite dish channels, including just last week. The movie is one of those weird movies that is interesting and keeps you watching, but it’s dark and there are many twists and the ending just leaves you scratching your head, sort of like John Wayne’s movie “The Searchers.” But I love the title and knew eventually I would use it for a title in one of my outdoor stories. The movie “No Country For Old Men” is set in west Texas near the U.S./Mexico border. The movie begins with Tommy Lee Jones, the county sheriff of Terrell County Texas, talking about how bad things have gotten and his struggle to deal with those changes, however, this is only a fraction of what the movie has in store for the viewer.
As I began packing for our annual trip to South Dakota and took my waders off their hanger I felt the heft of them and wondered how much higher the hills surrounding the potholes we hunt had gotten. It seems that the distance walking down the hill to the potholes has gotten noticeably shorter while the walk up the hill seems to have increased tenfold. The weight of those waders has no significance when hunting at the lake near home. You simply step out of the boat and perhaps toss out a dozen or so single decoys or the geese decoys later in the season and go back and sit down and wait for shooting hours. The distance isn’t the only factor when walking those hills, it’s the fact that the first trip is done in the dark and despite lights on our hats that make us look like coalminers beginning our shift, you don’t see everything and besides the rocks everywhere, there are also the gophers whose mounds are hidden by the grass or brush. There are three main potholes that we hunt and only one of them can we drive halfway close if the crops are out. The other two are “Walk-In” areas only. “Walk-In” doesn’t sound as menacing as they should be called at the very least “Pack-in” or “Trek-In” or “Death March In”. Luckily, I have found some younger hunters whose love for waterfowl hunting overshadows putting up with me and they take care of me very well.
My contribution for the hunt is going online and place our names for the drawing for the license, finding accommodations, and often providing the vehicle. I do a great deal of the calling and since I’m somewhat of a night owl I can stay awake if someone else is driving or drive all night long myself. I also provide a retriever about every other year, as well as half the decoys that we take. Notice I said “Provide” half the decoy, not “Pack” the decoys. It may sound like a little difference, but it is a huge difference to someone who has turned 66 years of age this year. That decoy bag will weigh around 25 pounds when you slide it out of the back of the truck and feels like it weighs 250 when you lift it to slide it back into the truck bed. Each year the decoy bag will have a little weight loss, but like all weight loss programs there will be set backs along the way! However, it’s not the hills that cause your legs to cramp when you stretch out in your bunk at night. It’s not the number of steps you had to take wearing those previously mentioned waders. Under the surface of those iron smelling potholes in South Dakota are two choices in bottoms. The first is a hard bottom strewn with gravel and every so often there will be a small boulder covered with moss that is as slick as soft butter sprayed down with WD40 with a layer of olive oil drizzled over it. Those baby boulders are the killers and I don’t care how deep the water is, once you go down the water will run over the tops of your waders. The other bottom will be mud with a petroleum like shine to it. It has an odor to that sort of a mixture of gear grease on muskrat feces. In order to be fair to the waterfowl hunters in South Dakota, God doesn’t allow the water or the mud to have complete control, so if there is mud under the surface the water and mud will be of the same depth. But that mud pulls at your boots the way the Sirens did to Ulysses and it never wants to give you up. Just like the walk in, putting out decoys and wading in that water is done in the dark.
So the question you might be asking at this point is what am I packing if some young pack mule has my decoy bag. Well, to be honest the gear that I’m packing is very similar to the gear that every hunter has with the decoy bag being the exception. I will have a shotgun weighing in at about 6.5 lbs., the case that holds the gun also has a sleeve where I can put the Mojo duck’s stake so the gun, case and stake will probably come in at about 8 pounds. There will be a combination of rucksack/blind bag that will have ammo, a soft drink or two, something for a snack, binoculars, calls and the previously mentioned motion decoy. I also have a small Bible, but I don’t count it as it does a much better job of supporting me than I do in packing it. I suppose this rucksack weighs close to ten pounds. Then there will be a folding chair that weighs in at a couple pounds perhaps three. More than likely, I will also grab someone else’s gun case, chair, or blind bag. I will be keeping my balance or at least attempting to by carrying a collapsible decoy grabber that has a shepherd hook on the end to grab decoys that may be out in the deeper water. This will be in one hand and in the other will be an excited yellow female lab named Bailey, who doesn’t want to stay in the rear with me, but instead prefers to be up with the younger and faster hunters, but the amount of skunks around means that she is my prisoner and we are shackled to each other. So no one gets off lightly as each has a burden to bear.
Trust me I appreciate my hunting buddies and their taking care of me. We really do make for a good team as each member brings something to group. But I do know is that without their support, my annual pilgrimage to South Dakota for waterfowl would truly be, No Country For Old Men!