The tablet of graph paper, green colored with quarter-inch squares used for drafting, sat on the low table before me. The woodstove crackled with spruce near where Rigby sat on the end of the table, supervising. Or more likely waiting for the paper to turn into a cheeseburger.
“This is for you,” I told the chocolate Labrador. He nodded, his bottom lip jutting out in a perpetual pout.
The drawing had taken a decent shape when Christine came out to the shop and looked over my shoulder.
“What is that?” she asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I replied. “It’s a new duck blind.”
She looked at the paper intently for a moment and acknowledged that it could be a duck blind except for a space off the end that didn’t seem to flow with the rest.
“What is this?” she asked, pointing at the square.
“That’s where Rigby goes when his flatulence becomes overpowering.”
I expect most folks would assume that a duck blind is built to conceal duck hunters so they may shoot unsuspecting fowl that are duped by the subterfuge of decoys and raucous calling. They would be right, sort of.
This time of year, after the calendar says it’s the first day of spring but the weather may not agree, some of us wait for the first mallard, northern pintail or Canada goose to arrive to make it official.
That’s what got me thinking about building a new blind this year, one that Cheyenne could access, with her bad hips without too much difficulty, and large enough to hold Rigby as well.
Selecting a spot with favorable wind and decent topography and that ducks like isn’t an easy task. Still, it is enjoyable, what with all the thought and scouting that goes into what may take years to become what the mind’s eye envisioned at the start.
Thinking back to a four-day stretch when Christine and I spent three of those days in a duck blind with good friends, I asked her, “How much time do you think we spent actually shooting our shotguns during those three days?”
She thought about it for a bit and laughed. “Five minutes, give or take a few.”
“I don’t really know, though,” she said. “I can’t remember the shooting as much as the blue-bird day, looking at the clear sky without birds, and the chatting back and forth. We had some duck pepperoni and were passing it around when Shane declined and then pulled out that container full of piping hot lasagna.”
“I remember,” I said. “We all wanted to know who the hell made him lasagna.”
“I don’t think we saw a duck that day,” Christine said, “but the belugas were playing on the other side of the river. Maybe 15 seconds of shooting is a better guess.”
“Better than the year with our first blind,” I said. “That might have been 15 seconds for the entire season.”
We didn’t have a blind built prior to the first year we hunted together. I had been on sabbatical from duck hunting for about 16 years, and the blind I used in the early days had been taken away with high tides over the years.
So we started from scratch after the waterfowl season had started. Hauling material to the furthest pond from the road, we spent most of our trips building, not shooting. On nice evenings, as the blind took shape, we would sit and wait until after last light, and as often as not a few widgeon, mallards or pintails would drop into the pond while we say quietly.
The following spring we started the work of shoring up deficiencies in the structure and adding personal touches. Building blinds always reminds me of building forts when I was a kid. We had the adult version of a treehouse, without the tree.
The third season in our blind we spent 61 days in it. The vegetation around it had grown in, and even knowing where it was it became difficult to see by the start of waterfowl hunting season. We had an entrance that didn’t leave the tell-tale stomping of grass that spooks wildfowl.
The setup three years in the making was near perfect. The location not so much.
Being on the periphery of the wetland, without a dazzling array of foodstuff, it attracted small flocks or pairs of a variety of ducks, never in great numbers. I doubt we spent a minute total shooting from it.
But Gunner and Cheyenne, our two best duck dogs, learned to sit patiently (if not quietly, in Cheyenne’s case), and like all good duck dogs, they eyed the sky and saw birds before we did most every time.
Before the season, and once the season started, we would be sitting in our blind before daylight. Sometimes we could see ducks sitting on the pond, sometimes not, but always we could hear and feel the world come alive in those moments, hanging out in our fort. Some of the best times of our lives.
But public land being what it is, and our blind blending in the way it did after several years, we went out a few weeks before one season and found another blind, much more prominent, across the pond and much too close.
It was inevitable. We’d had some great years there and we didn’t mind someone else having a turn.
“OK,” Christine said, after I explained the details on the drafting paper, “When are we building it and where?”
“I have a couple of places in mind that will accommodate the blind with the wind in our favor,” I said. “We’ll decide after the snow is gone. By fall it won’t be perfect, but it’ll get Cheyenne out, and she can show Rigby how it’s done.”
“Maybe we can install a stove and make breakfast,” Christine mused.
“Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “But it’ll be an adventure for all of us, worth more than the sum of its parts. Just like every fort I’ve ever had.”
Steve Meyer is a longtime Alaskan and avid shooter who lives in Kenai.