“Dad, I’m having trouble keeping up with you,” I heard from behind me as I paddled. My son and I were duck hunting by kayak some years ago near our home at Lake Anna, and we each had a 10-foot sit-on-top. This was the first year he was paddling an adult-sized kayak and carrying his own shotgun.
We used our 20-foot TRACKER Grizzly to tender the kayaks to the area we want to hunt, then dropped them over the gunwale, and we paddled onward.
My son was 11 then, and I was 45. He’s now a senior in high school. The last time he held my hand I thought to myself, “Enjoy this because it’s probably the last time.”
I thought the same thing when he said he was having trouble keeping up. I slowed down and waited for him, acting like I was looking at something ahead. I was eager to get to the next duck swamp, probably a little over-eager.
As we all age there comes a time when our children can keep up with us and then surpass us. It comes at different times for different people. It’s nice to still be able to be out front, but I know that balance point is coming. I just hope he’s nice when the fulcrum tips in his favor.
Having a child rely on you at 11 is different than when they are 17 or 21 (my daughter’s age). My life is probably like yours, an ongoing adventure with a surprise ending, but I’m thankful for the journey so far and for that little voice that still says, “Wait for me.”
We hunted from 7 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. that Saturday and saw enough ducks to keep it interesting. There were a lot of hunters in the same areas we visited. Mitch only shot once, at a squirrel that crossed a limb above the creek we paddled. He missed, but it was exciting.
About 1 p.m. he asked when he was going to his friend’s house. I said that was for tomorrow. I could sense the disappointment, so we quit at 1:30, had lunch at home, and I dropped him off for some play time. I did go back out for the last hour of the day.
The sun was setting, but the heavy cloud cover obscured any sign of it. Legal shooting hours ended at 4:58, way too early. I had the kayak in the water at 4:18 and was paddling into the back of a quiet tributary. Geese were flocked up in the last bay with houses, but I ignored them and kept on paddling toward the back of the creek and the swamp I knew waited.
As I made the first bend I saw three ducks on a mud bar get nervous, then flush and make for the mouth of the creek. The first two went by before I could put the paddle down and get the 12 ga. up. The third came right to left 10 foot above the water about 35 yards out – in range, but a nightmarish skeet shot I never mastered.
I raised the shotgun, followed the bird and then, like Virginia wingshooting master Kate Angstrom taught me, pushed beyond the target a barrel length and pulled the trigger. The steel shot found a hooded merganser, and it dropped clean.
I waited to see if more ducks would flush before retrieving the bird. In hand I paused admiring the rusty crest on its head. Two mallards took this opportunity to evacuate the creek and flew high over my head.
I had 20 minutes left to celebrate the day, so I paddled up that creek, briskly trying to extend the evening. I paddled until 4:58, pushing two more mallards above a two-foot high beaver dam and two whitetail deer during the reconnaissance part of the hunt.
It was over too soon, I thought paddling down the creek to the Grizzly. While I enjoyed the solitude I wished my son was with me. I knew next time I’d paddle more slowly so he could keep up, and I could watch that beautiful child of mine.
Virginia’s second duck season runs Nov. 20 through Dec. 1. The last segment of the season runs Dec. 19 through Jan. 31. Visit www.dgif.virginia.gov for limits and legal shooting hours.
Until next time, remember to cherish, protect and conserve the outdoors while sharing it with others.