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Larceny on the Lake

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Duck

     The day dawned with a twist.  A hunter’s life lesson hard learned as my Zen Boat canoe silently sliced morning mist.

     I jumped a pair of wood ducks along the shore to my left as my hand painted Zen Boat hit the lake. I quickly swapped paddle for gun, swung left and fired, but not quickly enough. The pair of ducks disappeared into misted lake’s rising sun.

     Whatever possessed me to do what I did next, I’ll never quite know, but after missing that pair of the new season’s first ducks, I decided to adjust and swap gun barrels right there on the spot. I determined that my 12 Gauge Remington 870’s full choke barrel would give me more range than the modified barrel I had initially chosen to hunt with.

     So, there I sat, alone in a canoe, in the pre-dawn mist on a lake, unscrewing my shotgun’s magazine cap so I could swap out gun barrels.

Suddenly, GABOING! I watched helplessly as my magazine cap pole vaulted three feet into the air and immediately disappeared PLOOP! into the dark lake’s mucky weed bed bottom.

     I sat stunned momentarily, in shocked disbelief. How could I be so damned dumb! Of course!  I knew better! That pump action shotgun’s magazine was spring loaded.

     Luckily for me, all was not lost. I carry two guns in my case when I hunt. My backup gun was also a Remington, in the same calibre. The magazine caps proved to be threaded the same and interchangeable. A duck hunt ending disaster all too narrowly averted.

(Mental note to self):

   “Hey Moron. It’s NEVER a good idea to swap out gun barrels while seated on a misty morning pre-dawn lake in a canoe. Always wait until daylight to make the exchange, and for God’s Sake moron, do it on dry land!”

     Just might have been the dumbest thing I’ve ever attempted while hunting.   A hunter’s life lesson hard learned.  Disaster averted, I continued paddling my Zen Boat on up the lake, determined not to ever repeat such a stupid mistake.

     I missed the mark on a couple more shots, then bagged a nice black duck near the mouth of an inlet. The season’s first duck successfully recovered, patchwork shotgun re-loaded, I continued into the inlet in hopes of another.

     Jump shooting ducks, hunting from a canoe, is a skill set all its own. One I learned early in life, hunting ducks with my father.  It’s far easier with two men, shooter up front, guide paddling from the rear. It’s far harder alone. Everything happens at much longer range, and a lone hunter is far slower to gun.

     I jumped another black duck well up into the inlet, swung low and left over the water and watched as the bird tumbled with a splash! into the lily pad filled, slow flowing lake inlet marsh waters.

     But alas! The duck had been winged, fallen upright and alive, near the swampy far shoreline, over eighty yards out.  It was well out of gun range. I muscled my Zen Boat upstream in pursuit through lily pad filled weed beds just as fast as I could paddle. All to no avail. The duck made its escape up into a marshy shoreline on the far side. That land was clearly marked “Posted.” Thus, despite my hunter’s desire to retrieve every downed bird, I respected the posted signs, and dared not pursue.

     I exited the inlet and made my way up into shallow weed bed seclusion on the west end of the lake. It was after 8am by that point. Sunrise had erased morning mist. The day was bright and warm. I decided to disembark on a small rocky point, set up my feeding tube, relax, rest, take in some breakfast and the day’s sun.

     As a tube fed cancer survivor, everything in life is hard earned, and comes with a price.  Duck hunting alone on a remote mountain lake, my “meals” are cumbersome, and make it very difficult to hide. I long ago resigned myself to that fact and stopped going overboard trying.

     I was in behind some cedar trees and large rocks on a point near a swamp. That was my hunting blind for the day. If a flock of ducks came by and gave me a passing shot, great! If not, a nap was in order while I awaited the setting sun and a late afternoon hunt from the confines of my trusty Zen Boat canoe.

     I called my brother Ray and invited him in for an early afternoon Adirondack Outlaw camp chef lakeside duck dinner. However, once again, alas! As I field dressed my black duck in preparation for the shared feast, I could see that it had some sort of parasite infestation and was unfit for consumption, so I called my brother back and cancelled his duck dinner reservation.

     So, there I sat, hooked to my feeding tube, enjoying a hunter’s solitude on a remote mountain lake. Several missed shots, one downed duck escape, one duck unfit for consumption, my gun’s magazine cap lost at the bottom of the lake. Two ducks down in the season’s first hunt, no duck dinner to show for it.  However, the day was still young. So, there was still hope.

I settled in for some early fall sun and a nap.

     Mid-afternoon rolled around. I was preparing to load gear and gun on my Zen Boat and resume my hunt, when, suddenly, from the marshy shoreline behind me, a black duck came screaming out in a panic.

Quack! Quack! Quack!

Flying low on the water, right on the deck.

The Scene of the Crime

     I grabbed my gun, swung left and fired one shot.


  I’d just downed another black duck. It was lying feet up in the water floating, motionless. Finally, duck dinner success!

     I quickly scrambled down to my Zen Boat to retrieve it.  Then something unexpectedly puzzling happened. As I untied my Zen Boat my upside-down floating duck suddenly began doing the backstroke!

     “What the heck?!” I thought. How is that duck swimming? It’s on its back, feet pointed skyward!  Whatever was going on, my duck dinner was doing the backstroke for the marsh with ever increasing speed.

       Then, before I could even finish boarding my Zen Boat to claim my prize, or react, another strange thing happened with an odd sounding Ploop! and a big swirl.

My duck vanished!  Just like that! It was gone!

         I paddled over to where I had last seen it. Paddled all around.  Had a big snapping turtle claimed my duck? A giant northern pike perhaps? Had it somehow come to life on its back, done the backstroke, dived down and grabbed a weed?  Nope, no signs of any of that, or my vanished duck. I found nothing.

     I searched and searched the shallow waters along the shore of that marsh.  I even got out and crashed through marsh brush in my search. No sign of my duck on shore either. 

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Duck.

     Then, as I re-boarded my Zen Boat and sat puzzling, I saw a commotion in the water. Several furry heads appeared.  They began chirping and chattering around me. I felt almost like they were pointing at me and laughing.

     It was a family of otters. They were the culprits. They must have been in pursuit of that duck, which was why it came screaming out of the swamp in such a panic.

     I sat and chuckled myself as the otters chuckled at me.  The joke was on me.  Mystery solved.

     I just shook my head, loaded the rest of my gear, and retraced my morning steps back down the lake.  I bagged a late evening pair of mallards coming out of the inlet at last light. So, in the end, I was able to give my brother a duck dinner after all.

     But what I will remember more than anything else about that hunt, was the hard lesson learned about guns in a Zen Boat canoe on a lake, and the moment when what I thought would be a duck dinner was stolen.

Larceny on the Lake.

By a Family of Otters.


Until Our Trails Cross Again: