The Sheriff read the sign on the post at the entrance, "Quack and Shoot Duck Club and Farms, No Trespassing," as he turned into the lane. He recalled he had been here once before, ten years ago or so, he was still a Deputy then. He had responded to a call for assistance when one of the elderly members had suffered a heart attack.
There was four or five pick up trucks parked in front of the house as he pulled to a stop. He recognized all of the people standing in the small group talking. They were farmers who lived in the surrounding area. As he exited his vehicle Steve Deckard who owned the adjacent property approached him. Steve related to the Sheriff that he had come to investigate if anything was wrong when Shilo the chocolate lab of the owner came to his house and began to howl. Steve went onto tell the Sheriff that the dog and him had become friends in the past few years when he took over the farming lease at Quack and Shoot. He knew something was wrong because the dog never left area of the house without his owner. He had followed the dog to the duck marsh and found the owner in the duck blind. The owner had apparently died from a heart attack he thought.
The Sheriff peered into the blind and saw the body of an elderly man sitting in an upright position leaning against the wall of the far end of the blind. As he entered the blind he saw for dead mallard drakes hung neatly in a row on the wall next to the man. There was a Model twelve-shotgun leaning in the gun rack on the front of the blind with the breech open. He checked for a pulse and could detect none. The man was deceased as Mr. Deckard had stated. The Sheriff noticed a worn envelope protruding from the breast pocket of the mans hunting coat. Upon removing the envelope and opening it he read the contents of the letter inside.
To whom it may concern,
If you are reading this letter then you know I have enjoyed the last day of the last season of my life.
As the sole survivor of rights to the Quack and Shoot Duck club and Farm I request that you do the following:
Contact my attorney I.M. De Mann, In Sulfur Springs, Texas. As I have no living family.
He has specific instructions as to how to handle my last affairs.
Would you also take my dog Shilo to my neighbor Steve Deckard, they have become pals of sorts and I am certain Mr. Deckard will enjoy Shilo's company. Even though he says, Shilo is the wrong color.
Please close up the house and lock the gate when you have removed my remains. I will not be back to hunt in the marsh that I have loved for so many years. I have gone to hunt ducks with those friends who proceeded me in death.
Two weeks later as Steve was checking fence he saw the small airplane circle the distant marsh. He had observed this site before, nine times before, when each of the members and owners of Quack and Shoot had died. The plane would circle drop down over the marsh and distribute the ashes or some personal item of the deceased into the marsh. Steve reached down and patted the head of Shilo as the dog watched the plane descend over the marsh. Steve felt the warmth of a tear trickle down his cheek. He knew it was more for the dog than the man who had left him behind. He had not known Gus Brown well. They had met for the first time when Gus moved to the duck club four years ago.
Gus had come to Steve's house one evening and inquired if Steve would be interested in farming the club. Gus had Shilo with him that evening and Steve recalled the little brown dog was just a weanling puppy then. They had made their arrangements and he only saw Gus when he would stop at Gus' house to drop off a check or tell him that all the crops were in. Gus had stayed to himself after moving in. Gus had always invited Steve to come and hunt with him. Steve had always said he would, but just never seemed to find the time to go. There was always work to do on the farm.
Steve found himself with three strangers in Mr. De Mann's office. He was there in response to a letter he received requesting him to be present at the reading of the last will and testament of Mr. Brown. Steve listened as the will was read. He thought that he would receive ownership of Shilo formally and that would be it. Maybe there would be some stipulation regarding his continued farming of the club. Why else would he be summoned for the reading? He had thought.
He listened as hundreds of thousands of dollars were left to Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl. He didn't quite understand the legal vocabulary, but he got the drift of it. Those hundreds of thousands actually added up to millions by the time all the annuities had run their courses.
Then suddenly he heard his name being read. Mr. DeMann read that Shilo's ownership would be transferred to Steve, as he had guessed. Then he heard the most stunning news. He would be left the Quack and Shoot Duck Club and Farm in its entirety with two stipulations.
1. Any profits from farming the property would be shared on an annual basis with Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl. They were each to receive an equal share of the profits.
2. That Mr. Deckard was to purchase a duck call and learn how to call ducks. He was then on each Saturday morning of every succeeding duck season as long as he lived to take a different young man between the ages of 12 and 20 duck hunting on the property. That way Mr. Brown would insure that Shilo would get to hunt as long as he was able. It would further insure that Mr. Deckard would now find the time to accept the invitation to duck hunt that had been offered to him on so many previous occasions.
During the continued reading of the will Steve found out that Mr. Brown had been an orphan and the institution he had known as home would receive a large endowment if they furnished Mr. Deckard young men and boys to take hunting. Mr. Brown had spelled it out for them it would be a joint partnership between the heirs of his estate. D.U. and Delta would continue to propagate ducks, Deckard would learn to hunt them and the Orphanage would furnish the opportunity for new duck hunters to become exposed to what Mr. Brown had made into the passion of his life.
When Steve arrived home he explained to his wife and girls what had transpired at the reading of the will. He summed it up to them recalling the letter the Sheriff found the day Mr. Brown died. "Girls I guess I have become a duck hunter till the last day of the last season of my life."
As time passed so did Shilo. Steve continued to take young men duck hunting each Saturday morning. He found that he enjoyed the experiences with each of the young men. He reformed the club that had once been so active. The new members, however, had to each comply with the most important rule of the club. Each Saturday morning each member must take a young man or boy hunting. He had them sign a contract to that effect.
In his own way Steve perpetuated the dream of his benefactor. There would always be another duck hunter who would be there to hunt till the last day of the last season.
Call em Down!
Where Blackberries Grow
The pickup bounced along the dirt road and came to a stop. Well calling the two evenly spaced ruts a road was being generous. The occupants of the truck, Peanut Thompson and Snake Arnold, had followed the road to its conclusion at the edge of the lake after hearing two boys talking while they sat and whittled in front of the store. It seems the boys had found a mallard hen sitting on a nest out at Peanut and Snakes favorite hunting lake.
On the drive out to the lake they had discussed and cussed the mallard hen nesting at the lake. The one thing they were concerned about was if their comrades would accuse them of killing local birds. After all they had a reputation to live up too. They were the best two duck hunters in the valley and they had proved it time and time again.
They had grown up together and between the two of them they could brag about having a hundred years experience between the two of them and often did. The threat of a hen having babies in their favorite hole just sent cold chills up their spines. This was a dilemma for certain.
Neither one of them had ever heard of a duck nesting in this part of the country. It was just too far south. What had gotten into this female they wondered. Being bachelors they had never really understood feminine things. Not that being married helps much either when it comes to understanding the female mind.
They approached the brambles the boys had described with the utmost caution. Pulling the foliage back and peering down through the greenery they saw a female mallard hen. There she sat, just as the boys had described, all alone and on her nest. Peanut, being the smaller of the two, crawled into the bushy snarl. As he got close, the hen moved off her nest revealing eight pretty little eggs. Unhappily she waddled into the water swimming in circles and quacking her chiding for being bothered at such a delicate time.
By now Snake was whispering commands to Peanut as if he were afraid some unknown inety was watching them. Peanut on the other hand wasn't paying any attention to Snake. He had already decided that he wasn't going to be the one to disturb her nest. In fact he wished now they had never come to the lake today. Both of them had donated many hours and dollars to their favorite waterfowl conservation groups. If the duck gawds had decided that this particular blackberry patch was where they wanted this hen to hatch a clutch of ducks, who were they to challenge the duck gawds? That in itself could be disastrous.
Peanut backed out of the blackberry bush and stared straight into Snake's eyes. "Snake", he stammered, "We ain't doin' nuthin' to that hen. In fact we are gonna make sure nuttin' else bothers her until she has them babies. The duck gawds has sent this hen to us and by golly we got to protect her. At least till she has them babies then its up to the big bass and the snappin' turtles to leave em be."
Snake stood there looking at Peanut. You could almost see his brain racing through thoughts. He walked in a circle pondering what his lifelong partner had said. He squatted down and looked under the shrubbery trying to study the situation. Shaking his head he stood and spoke, " Peanut I been your partner for almost fifty years. I never seen you care bout nuthin' cept how many more fish you caught than me and how many more ducks you shot than me and the same goes for quail, pheasants, frogs, squirrels, and even Rattlers when you talked me into going on that snake hunt in Oklahoma. Now you're telling, me suddenly our reputation don't matter any."
Peanut squared his five foot five frame as tall as he could responding in his most forceful voice. " I didn't say a thing bout not caring bout our reputation. I got a plan if you'll just hang on here a minute. Now you know them two boys would do just about anything me and you would ask if they thought they would get to hunt with us just one time. Here's what we will do. We are gonna hint to them that if they can keep their big mouths shut and help us watch this hen for a few weeks till she hatches those eggs. We might be thinkin' about teachin' them how to duck hunt a little? maybe."
Snake stood there for a few minutes thinking. Then he asked the inevitable, "Whose gonna take the night shift?" With that the two stood looking at each other as if they had cold water thrown on them. Walking to the truck they decided they needed to put more thought into this plan.
On the ride back to town they devised a plan where the boys would watch the hen during the day and the two of them would take the all night shift. That way they could fish by lantern light all night.
As luck would have it the boys fell for the plan hook line and sinker when the two old timers hinted that they would be teachin' a couple of boys duck huntin' the next fall. The boys they would be teachin' had to show they cared about ducks enough to earn the right to learn duck huntin' from the best two duck hunters in the valley.
The boys volunteered their services anxiously. Each morning as the sun came up they showed up at the lake to take their watch over the hen and her nest. Each morning they found the same scene. Snake and Peanut sound asleep in their lawn chairs, lanterns burned low and the two old men with a stringer of Crappie that anyone would envy.
On the third day of the second week the boys were treated to peeping sounds from baby ducks. Soon they saw the hen swimming close to shore with her new brood, showing them off for the world to see. Well at least the world as the ducklings knew it. The boys spent the summer with Peanut and Snake learning to call ducks and listening to the matriarch calling her brood. They watched as the ducklings that survived the Bass and Turtles grew into flying targets they would be shooting at in the fall.
When fall arrived the boys had to return to school and their activities. There were football games to play and girls to look at and giggle about. Snake and Peanut had never cared much about the school football games. Mysteriously they found themselves attending the games the boys played in, which consisted of freshman games after school one night a week.
A week before the duck season started Peanut and Snake surprised the boys by giving each of them a new duck call and their federal waterfowl stamps.
Opening morning found the boys and their mentors in the duck blind on the lake where they had spent almost every day of the summer. Peanut and Snake had the decoys placed in front of the blind. The blind had been stocked with enough breakfast makings to feed two football teams.
At first light a flock of teal came zinging by, buzzing the decoys like miniature jets. This was a good omen for the opening morning, the duck gawds were smiling. As Peanut and Snake each folded a passing teal they told the boys that the next birds to work were for the boys to shoot. As the four of them sat in the blind they saw, in the distance, a flock of ducks approaching the lake. Peanut started the calling and the rest backed him up with their calls. As the birds circled it was apparent they were mallards. They cupped up their wings, dropped their bright orange feet and started a rapid decent that would put them in the center of the decoys. Snake gave the command? "Take em boys, they're yours."
No one moved and the birds gently landed amongst the decoys. Snake sat there looking first at the boys then at Peanut. Softly he asked, "What's the problem here?" The boys looked at their mentors and plainly said they couldn't shoot the birds they had helped raise all summer.
Peanut shook his head in disgust, asking," Do they teach you boys to count in that school or just how to play football?"
The look on the boy's faces said it all. They didn't understand. Snake put his arms around the boy's shoulders in a loving way explaining to them that what Peanut was trying to say was that there were five ducklings and the hen that lived all summer on the lake. In front of them swam at least twenty or so mallards and if they didn't shoot them he was going to. With that both the young men sprang into action. As they stuck the barrels of their guns out the opening of the blind the mallards took flight. The boys shot till there were no more shots to shoot at the fleeing mallards. Peanut quickly dispatched a crippled drake that was trying in vain to sneak off.
Snake being the tallest and the least likely to get wet retrieved the dead ducks as he had done for the past fifty-one years. Handing the grinning boys their ducks he said to Peanut, "You know we sure are lucky I wasn't the one to crawl into where that hen was sittin' on those eggs. If I had, we most likely wouldn't be havin' as much fun as we are havin' now."
With that said, the old men fired up the cook stove and started making breakfast. Just like they had for the past fifty years or so. For the Peanut and Snake the teachin' had just begun. They would spend every weekend with the two boys down at the lake where the blackberries grow.
Call em Down!