Duck Hunting

Blogon November 11th, 20111 Comment


At 6 this morning, my dad and I pull his SUV up to the lake. It’s just begun snowing, and as I step out of the car, I’m glad for the extra pair of long johns. Dad begins to back the trailer into the icy water, and I follow it, taking awkward wader-clad steps down the ramp and trying my hardest not to slip.

I loosen the clips holding the boat to the trailer and push. Nothing happens. I push harder. Still nothing. My dad backs the trailer farther into the water. I shove with all my might, embarrassed that I can’t perform a simple task my dad has done hundreds of times. Then I realize — it’s still strapped to the back of the trailer.

I loosen the last straps, and it floats away effortlessly. We finish loading our gear into the boat as the snowflakes grow bigger and the wind begins to snap. That’s when we realize our biggest mistake: the Thermos full of piping-hot coffee is still on the counter. Warmth and caffeine won’t be coming our way any time soon. Suddenly, this whole duck-hunting thing seems a little less appealing.

My dad steers the boat into the center of the lake, the moon lighting our way until the sun takes over. By the time we reach our little hunting island, the sunrise is in bloom and the snow has subsided.


We set up camp on a little island and distribute the decoys so they look like they’re just hanging out. I ignore a pang of guilt over the idea of luring the ducks under false pretenses so we can slaughter them. They’ll think they’re at a party until the slugs hit them. We stow away the boat and set up camp — which consists of two folding chairs, one gun and no coffee. Oh, and camo makeup.

I don’t like to do anything halfheartedly, so the moment we sit down, I get to work disguising all my features. Last night, my cousin told me a basic strategy for camouflage, and I spend the next 10 minutes missing the rising sun and passing ducks as I complete my masterpiece.

Suddenly, I hear it: the distinctive call of an approaching duck. My dad is ready — has been, I suspect, the entire time I was painting myself — and as she lands, he raises his gun.


With only one shot, the duck is down. Sort of. She thrashes about a bit, flailing her wings and dunking her head underwater. Then she’s still. My dad wades out to retrieve his prize. I burst into unexpected tears.

By the time my dad returns, I’ve hidden my tears and manage to feign excitement over our kill, which he places at my feet.

“She’s pretty, isn’t she?” my dad says as he settles into his chair. I’m quiet.

We ease into silence, and I finally really notice my surroundings. The sun has risen, but the world is still quiet. The homes around us are vacant for the season, and any residents who still live here haven’t yet begun their day. It’s peaceful in a way I never experience in New York, and I realize that city life means that not one moment of my life is truly quiet.


The sound of quacking breaks the perfect still, and my dad holds up his gun again. Two ducks this time — both males — land amid our crowd of fakers and begin to splash and play. I want to ask my dad to spare them, these cute ones, but I also want to know if he can do it.



Two shots; two hits. Both ducks flail around, and my dad shoots them with a third mercy round. Eventually, they grow still, and he brings the boat to meet them. My stomach churns, and I force myself to calm down. I stare in front of me, noticing the twinkle of light against water. Does it always do that?

My dad returns and looks at me. “Wanna try?”

I steady the gun against my shoulder, release the safety and peer down the barrel. He tells me to aim at a point in the water, and I do.


The shell flings into the air and I’m thrown backward, filled with the momentary terror and exhilaration that follows a gunshot. I shoot again. And again. I’m giddy and giggling. Finally, I realize that I’m shooting at nothing and that my dad is grinning at me.

So maybe I do like hunting. Just not the killing part.

One Response to “Duck Hunting”

  1. Linda says:

    Elissa, what lovely photos and descriptions. You have a whole layer of talent that editing doesn’t let you fully use. I’m looking forward to your first book, which I KNOW you’ll produce one of these days. Glad you’re enjoying your time at home.

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