Decades ago, my father, brother and I enjoyed an annual ritual that was a remarkable tradition. It was a bonding of father, sons and friends: the adventure of Opening Day on the duck flats across Cook Inlet.
Dad was a partner in a duck shack that remains standing to this day. It's grandfathered to our family and one two others who continue to kick around town. It's only accessible by float plane. We traveled there via Cessna planes and even a Grumman Goose on one or two occasions.
Many portions of the following story were written and left uncompleted by my father before he passed. Dad was a successful and well-respected (and rightfully feared) attorney for decades in Alaska. He and his partners built Resolution Plaza (corner of 3rd & "L" Street) in Anchorage - the big red building that stands next to the Captain Cook statue overlooking the inlet. Appropriately, Swan Lake can be imagined in the far distance from the vantage point of where Dad's office and desk was located. There was no coincidence involved in choosing that office space or view.
While his writing was unfinished, I've added my two-cents throughout. It's not completely politically correct. And I haven't hunted for more than 30 years. But as you will see, it wasn't really about 'the hunt.'
I'll add photographs as they float to the top of my archives. With or without photos, the writing is a portrait in itself.
This is a 'colorful' story. Some discretion is advised.
I hope you enjoy "Opening Day, 1981"
An original writing by Ken and David Jensen
How do I know that opening day of the duck season is at hand? “Obvious,” I say.
The skies are clear and blue, the wind is blowing hard from the north and no self- respecting Mallard, Pintail, Widgeon, Teal or Shoveler would dare be found or made dead flying lower than five hundred feet.
And there I will be with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with what? Why, steel shot of course. Thank God our government is protecting us and birds from the evils of lead shot.
Now I hate to be a whiner. But steel shot tends to be as limp as an Alaska Duck Hunter’s cold whickerdick when its trajectory reaches some 25 feet beyond the muzzle. Trust me on this ... a cold Alaska Duck Hunter’s cold whickerdick is limp enough without the handicap of distance! Obviously the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has never heard of the advantages of putting a little lead in one’s pencil or whickerdick, much less any south-flying fowl.
Instead of using those wonderful shells which used to contain jillions of little deadly pieces of #5 shot, today’s steel loads include a pathetic group of gargantuan BBs about the size of the suppositories used by large animal veterinarians.
What does this do to the odds? Simply, God would have to detest a particular duck to permit it to wander into the path of one of these cannon balls. Such a duck must have some sort of social disease to have provoked such Divine wrath. The duck, after all, has already been assured a generous safety buffer provided by the government as well as the ineptitude of those Alaska Duck Hunters who hope to defy logic by launching the before-mentioned suppositories into the sky.
I’ve digressed. There’s more to The Hunt than just The Hunt. Preparations for opening day included provisions for fifteen ungrateful and selfish alcoholic food eaters. Crates of supplies included a plethora of steaks, sausage, cheese, baked beans, crackers, bacon, ham, cookies, eggs, bread, biscuits, sweet rolls, nuts, chips, dips, potatoes, hash, candy bars, shoe string snacks, pickles and last, but not least, Bufferin. Some of these gluttonous bastards claim that the aspirin helped prevent hangovers. These are the same miscreants who remain conscious long into the evening drinking copious quantities of alcohol provided by the booze genie.
Before sunrise, there will be much drinking, laughing, poorly-played hands of poker, smoking of badly-chosen cigars, and courageous stories about opening days past. Somebody, usually one of the young ones, will throw up profusely after the others have sacked out. Bunk-dwellers will pretend not to hear - but come late morning, after the shoot, they will unmercilessly rag on the poor unfortunate.
I’m reminded of a spray-painted human outline of my youngest son on the shack’s deck one year. It was forensic proof that youth doesn’t necessarily promise endurance when it comes to all-nighters or overabundance.
Eventually, the shack will shake and rumble violently on its pilings thanks to talented soloists from the renowned Duck Shack Snore Choir. Each will unwittlingly perform arias from their upper or lower squeak-laden military bunk beds. The thin mattresses provided little insulation to buffer that rumble (if one was lucky enough to have a mattress).
But have no fear, It’s just 2-3 hours before the wake up alarm announces the crescendo of another opening day’s sunrise. Thirty minutes seems barely enough time to suit up in hip waders, to fill a thermos with tar-black coffee, and to row one’s wobbly skiff past tediously choreographed decoys as they bounce in the breeze and wonderous muck of Swan Lake. Eventually, hopeful gunners are settled into blinds that seemingly lead the blind.
Sunrise occurs. Opening day has arrived.
A blast in the distance is heard. It’s possibly the result of too many beans. Or, quite probably an act of someone’s desperation as a wise flock of Merganzers fly overhead at the safe distance of 26.’
In reality, I suppose lead shot has nothing to do with a successful opening day for an Alaska Duck Hunter.
The whole thing is sort of artificial. And the whole thing is very real.
Another opening day will pass.
A bunch of grown men being boys again for a day.
I can hardly wait.