Mike Wilson: Christening ‘The Lucky 7’
Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2022
By Mike Wilson
When the Briery Creek Wildlife Management Area, featuring hundreds of acres of flooded timber for bass fishing and duck hunting, opened in Virginia only three miles from my house over 35 years ago, I could see immediately that I would need a boat for both pursuits. I settled on a 14-foot Buddy jon boat that happened to be in stock at the nearby canoe dealer and gave it a rather amateurish camo paint job. From the beginning, outboard motors were prohibited on that lake, so I usually paddled and/or used a small electric trolling motor to get around.
Now during that era I made some great friends among the hunting students at the small all-male college where I taught Spanish. One was from New Orleans, and he was at least a third generation duck hunter accustomed to somehow getting out almost every one of the sixty days of the season down there (we won’t raise the specter of “truancy”), so he had to make a tremendous sacrifice to get educated so far from home. At least in those days he didn’t have to suffer the torture of receiving photos of his friends and kin showing off heavy straps of ducks every morning of the world on his cell phone. He was full of amazing stories of alligators, great Labs, and ingenious relatives, such as the one who baited a pond in the off season by driving up to the bank at top speed in an old VW Beetle with the trunk lid removed and then slamming on the brakes at the last second to let hundreds of pounds of corn slide into the water. Now that is efficiency!
We took the boat out scouting a couple of weeks before the December split and found a nice grass bed only a couple of feet deep bordered by flooded hardwoods along what must have been a fence line before the dam was built and decided we would come back there for the opening day. Now this was a season in which USFWS had reduced the bag limit to three ducks daily because of poor nesting conditions up north and the resultant low population.
When the day of our hunt finally arrived, we situated the boat among the trees and set out the decoys on the grass bed. Just after legal light, a big mixed flock came in and we both emptied our guns down to the plugs. When we surveyed the damage, we could see three greenwing teal and three mallard drakes floating dead and a fat hen mallard lying on her back and pedaling the air furiously. Uh-oh.
Within seconds we heard a gas outboard rev up down the lake, and that could only mean one thing: the game warden, who of course was authorized to use a gas motor. I was really panicking because I have always adhered very strictly to regulations and was even a certified hunter safety instructor, and I couldn’t imagine losing my license—or even my favorite shotgun—and getting fined. What could we do?
With perfect serenity, my Louisiana friend asked, “Got a pocketknife?” I handed him one and what followed is still etched in my memory as if it were yesterday. I promise that in under a minute he breasted out that hen, dropped the filets down the front of his waders, mashed the carcass into the soft mud bottom beneath our feet, rinsed his hands and the knife, and handed it back to me. His own indelible memory of that moment is my immediate reaction: “Harrito, you’ve done this before…”
The warden went on up the lake, much to our relief. We decided that the boat should definitely be christened “The Lucky 7,” and I have had a decal with that numeral on the bow ever since. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have taken her out in these decades of hunting, but that time is by far the most memorable.
Now any duck hunter middle-aged or older will recall somewhat bitterly that season shortly after the non-toxic shot requirement was enacted when USFWS also changed the legal shooting hours to “sunrise to sunset,” disallowing the “30 minutes before sunrise” proviso common before and since that abominable year. My buddy Ken and I suffered an especially tragic ramification of that rule.
We sat in flooded timber in the Briery Creek Wildlife Management Area in my little 14-foot jon boat having set out our decoys. I had chosen black duck decoys, persuaded by catalog verbiage to the effect that, since they are the wariest species of duck, others seeing them would have more confidence in landing. (I have since then entertained ever-increasing doubts about the true depth of duck psychology.)
As we loaded up and covered up with about 20 minutes to wait, my man turned around and bent over to get something from the bag behind him. At that instant a flock of about 25 or 30 black ducks sat down right in the decoys. A few we might have almost touched by reaching out a paddle. I whispered , “Don’t move!” and he gamely tried not to. The nice, fat ducks just sat there happily—much more happily than my contorted partner in the stern of the boat– as the clock ticked. The minutes grew slower as if suddenly subject to Special Relativity. Then, when we had only 2 minutes left, he just couldn’t be still anymore and shifted his butt ever so slightly.
Have you ever sat on the hood or roof of a car and then noticed the little boom that ensues when you dismount? It might as well have been a cannon shot, because when the thin metal seat of that jon boat flexed those blackies hauled out of that hole like their tails were on fire! They turned out to be the only ducks we saw that day and in the long run the only flock of black ducks I have ever seen up close—as in shootable– in these many years.
Understand, however, that I don’t blame my buddy. I blame foremost the USFWS for that ill-conceived, poisonous, and meddlesome regulation and then myself for not buying a heavier boat in the first place!
Mike Wilson is chairman of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.