Taking a bite out of duck hunting Friends kick back at Bottoms By Marc Murrell The Capital-Journal Published Sunday, November 09, 2008 Many outdoor enthusiasts have a favorite outing they enjoy as a ritual each year. Deer hunters in the east are big into deer camps with elaborate cabins and equipment. Southerners enjoy fishing outings at the beach for a weekend, often sharing time with close family and friends. And for those of us in the Midwest, we have options as well. One of my favorites happens each fall in the form of duck camp at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. If you've never been to Cheyenne Bottoms (near Great Bend) you owe it to yourself to visit. It's considered a wetland of international importance and the sights and sounds of 20,000 acres of prime wetland habitat make it pure heaven. Huge flocks of Sandhill cranes, white-fronted geese, dozens of species of shorebirds and more species of ducks than you can count on both hands provide more entertainment than any night on the Discovery Channel. Duck camp at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is an annual ritual for Marc Murrell and several friends. The 2008 version was a big success as evidenced by this nice fist-full of mallards held by Jim Reid. Courtesy / Submitted The annual duck camp ritual for a group of friends is a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Duck boats, campers, duck dogs and duck hunters are all key ingredients to a successful camp. Big fires don't hurt and many are stoked into the night listening to the sights and sounds afforded by a 20,000-acre wetland. Click Thumbnails to View Several buddies and I like to make duck camp an annual ritual. We'll pull campers and several duck boats, depending on how many people are planning to attend, and set up camp for several days. But our duck camp excursions each fall are strictly at the mercy of Mother Nature. The 2007 duck camp plans were scrapped as Cheyenne Bottoms flooded from torrential rains. It became Kansas' largest lake at more than 30,000 acres making hunting or access all but impossible. Skipping a year makes the next one all the more enjoyable as anticipation builds. The 2008 season was fast approaching and Cheyenne Bottoms had good water conditions and favorable duck numbers. Hopes were high as we made plans to hunt four days in late October. But as friends often do, several had to remind me of our 2006 duck camp. Just as many happy memories are made, occasionally Murphy's Law rears his ugly head and not-so-pleasant memories are made, too. A buddy and I arrived after lunch and got camp set up and headed out to the marsh for an evening hunt and a bit of scouting. Ducks rose by the hundreds and my adrenaline was high as we hid the boat and began pitching decoys in front of it. I was hurrying and trying to throw several at least 25 yards to spread things out. I typically grab the decoy string in the middle so that the weight and decoy hang together below and chuck it as far as I can with a sidearm heave. As I launched one of the few remaining decoys the string wrapped around my finger and the decoy didn't leave my hand. The 6-ounce lead weight came flying around as fast as it can swing on a 3-foot string and caught me squarely in the side of the mouth. Hearing the thud, my buddy looked at me and his eyes got big. Blood was gushing down my chin onto my waders and shirt. "What in the world did you do," he hollered, knowing it wasn't good. I mumbled something about "screwing up pretty bad" as the side of my face began to swell. Fortunately, I had put a first aid kit in my duck bucket and I got some gauze out and cut it into strips. I packed it into my left cheek and tried to take inventory of my teeth, which was difficult because of all the blood. All the teeth were there, but my upper left canine wiggled considerably. I assumed it was just loose in the socket. I got the bleeding to stop and decided to stay and hunt, against my better judgment, as well as my friend's. We ended up shooting a near-limit of ducks but my mood had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. I've thrown literally thousands of decoys through the years just like that and never had any problems. I couldn't believe I'd screwed up that bad. The pain was excruciating, but the thought of abandoning duck camp hurt nearly as much. Back at camp with a light and mirror I'd discovered that instead of being loose, my canine tooth was broke nearly in two at the gum line. Another buddy had arrived and I now had two friends to wince and grimace every time they looked at me. A call to my dentist's emergency number found him in Las Vegas at a dental convention and he wouldn't return for two days. It was difficult to sleep that night but I told my buddies they could hunt in the morning (we were in my camper and boat) and then I would pack up and head home. I spent the next day in a recliner sipping soup through a straw. Every time my tongue would bump the broken tooth the nerve would pull tight and send a shooting pain through my head like someone hitting me with a skillet. The next morning's dental visit couldn't come soon enough. I was the talk of the dental office as each hygienist had to come look at me and express their sincere sympathy at my misfortunes. They were more compassionate than some of my friends that called wondering if hockey goalie masks shouldn't be required equipment for future duck hunting trips. The dentist numbed my mouth and broke the tooth off and then performed a root canal. I got a temporary tooth and was feeling no pain until I saw the bill, which came close to $1,500. Fifty percent of that was my responsibility and added expensive injury to insult. But by that afternoon I was feeling much better and I wanted to salvage something of our duck camp and a buddy and I decided to return the next morning. It was a beautiful morning as we pitched decoys, somewhat gingerly this time, into the darkness. I flinched like a toad in a hail storm each time he launched one as the feeling of six ounces of lead at 60 mph was still quite vivid. We had a great hunt and wrapped it up with a big fire in the camp ground and a wonderful lunch of Cajun gumbo. I kicked back in my chair and enjoyed the day and experience even though it was the abbreviated version of our typical duck camp. The good news is our 2008 duck camp was a huge success and I kept all my teeth intact. The weather was perfect and our days were highlighted with limits of ducks, big fires, tall tales and a few cocktails as we watched the sun set and listened to flocks of white-fronted geese and Sandhill cranes migrating non-stop overhead. Duck camp this year was truly good for the soul, but my dentist will have to do without which is just fine by me.