Way, way back in the mid-’80s I started duck hunting on my own. Before that, I went to Low Falls a few times with my Uncle Bill. I also shot wood ducks in the creek bottoms at the hunting club my grandfather belonged to, but I wouldn’t have have considered myself a duck hunter.

That all changed when I bought my first boat and a dozen decoys. I hunted every day I had off or could get away with calling in sick. I wasn’t very good at it and only shot a handful of ducks, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the water.

I eventually got married and had kids. I still hunted some, but slowly lost interest in it. It seemed like I was seeing more hunters than ducks and it just wasn’t worth the effort anymore, so I went for years without shooting a duck.

Then my son, Wesley, got old enough to shoot a shotgun and expressed an interest in trying to kill a duck. I still had a boat; my decoys were hanging in the shed, and we had a Boykin Spaniel who loved to retrieve, so we decided to give it a try.

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Chase and his first duck with Wes Murphy.

For the next five or six years Wesley, my hunting partner, Rob Cotterman, and I tried our best to become good at shooting ducks. We hunted all over the Lowcountry and even made a trip to Arkansas. We had some days where we did pretty good and a lot of days where the highlight of the trip was the sunrise or seeing a shooting star while waiting on legal shooting time.

My son became a teenager and decided he wanted to hunt with his friends and Rob decided duck hunting just wasn’t his cup of tea, so I started hunting solo again. I piddled around on my own for a couple of years but came to realize that a big part of duck hunting for me was sharing it with someone else, so I once again gave it up.

My grandson, Chase, loves anything outdoor-related. He will spend hours throwing a fishing lure or sitting in a deer stand and enjoy every minute of it. Two years ago, he got drawn for one of the youth duck hunts put on by the state.

We made the trip to Moncks Corner, ate breakfast at Waffle House and got put in a great blind in a pond with a ton of ringnecks, teal and wood ducks in it. Chase was only 6 at the time and not capable of swinging on a speeding duck, so the odds of him killing a duck were pretty low. He didn’t hit the first duck, but we had a great time.

He didn’t get drawn last year but when we got the email letting us know he was in this year, we started preparing for his hunt. Wesley got him a 20-gauge since he was now big enough to handle the recoil over the .410 he used previously.

We made several trips to the local sporting clays range and dang if he didn’t start hitting a few. I thought it was impressive for an 8-year-old to hit 13 out of 38 targets and was starting to think he might actually get his first duck.

Wesley and I started a tradition years ago that when we do one of the out-of-town hunts, we stay in the cheapest, closest motel we can find, and we get up early enough to eat a big breakfast at the local Waffle House.

I figured Chase should get to carry on the tradition, so my wife, Robin, met me in Moncks Corner at the local “no tell motel” late the afternoon before to hand off Chase.

I should have known it was a bad choice when I realized the check-in window was bulletproof glass, the lady on the other side of the window had teardrop tattoos under both eyes and there was what I was pretty sure was a lady of the evening sitting on the curb in front of the room next to ours.

But we survived the night, made it to the Waffle House in time to eat and get to the hunt in plenty of time for the 5 a.m. sign-in briefing.

We listened to a brief safety talk, drew for our blinds and loaded our gear in the truck for the ride out. The young man taking us out helped load out gear in the jon boat, pointed us in the right direction to get to our blind and wished us good luck. We made it to the blind without too much trouble, got the decoys situated and settled in to wait on daylight.

I have found that the 30 minutes or so before shooting time is one of the most enjoyable parts of duck hunting and that morning was no exception. We listened to barred owls hooting, coots screaming and something splashing in the water just out of sight. We drank coffee, talked about everything under the sun and enjoyed each other’s company. Then it was time to get ready to shoot.

Pumps and autos are still a little too long and heavy for him to swing and shoot effectively, so Chase uses a single-shot shotgun. The problem with a single shot is you must pull the hammer back with your thumb to take the safety off.

Chase can do so but it takes a while. It’s awkward and it means he has to take his eyes and concentration off of where the gun barrel is pointing, plus duck hunting by its very nature means your hands are often cold and wet. He is very safety conscious, but I don’t want to put him in a situation where he has the opportunity to do something unsafe.

My eight-year-old Granddaughter, Gracie, and I have been hunting together for the last three or four years. Two years ago, Gracie decided she was ready to sit in a deer stand with me. She made clear her rules for deer hunting before we ever went. We couldn’t shoot baby deer because that would make the momma deer sad.

We decided that the best way to stay safe and give Chase the best chance of shooting a duck would be for him to stand up with the barrel of the gun resting on the railing of the blind while holding the gun in the ready-to-raise position. I squatted down directly behind him with my thumb on the hammer. When a duck would come in range, I would pull back the hammer, he would raise the gun and shoot.

Several ducks got past us without us being able to get ready in time before we finally saw a small flock of wood ducks coming straight down the pond, directly toward us. I eased back the hammer, Chase pulled up and shot. As near as we could tell, he didn’t cut a feather but at least we now felt like we were in the game. That happened a couple more times, where either we couldn’t get ready in time to shoot, we flared off ducks with our movement or Chase got off a shot with no results.

Then it all came together. Both of us saw three wood ducks making a beeline down the middle of the pond heading in our direction. When they hit shooting range, I pulled back the hammer, Chase shot and a beautiful drake wood duck folded up and hit the water 20 yards away.

Then the circus started.

There were two bald eagles perched in a pine tree on the edge of the pond, 50 yards away. As soon as that duck hit the water, one of the eagles swooped down towards it. We both started hollering and throwing empty shotgun shells in its direction trying to scare it off. It was sort of working because it would flare off without grabbing the duck, but it kept coming back for another attempt. I finally told Chase to keep hollering and throwing empties and I would take the boat to get his duck.

These boats have a capacity warning label on them rating the boat for 326 pounds. I weigh 210. No problem, right?

Apparently that 326 pounds means evenly distributed weight, not 210 pounds on the narrow end because when I stepped down from the blind onto the end of the boat and all my weight hit, the boat immediately went under water and I was left hanging from the railing with my legs and waist in the water and my upper body dangling from the railing with no way to get back up. The boat was upside down, and the water was to deep for me to stand up in.

Somehow, with Chase’s help, I managed to get back in the blind. Luckily, the boat was still tied to the blind, so I was able to pull it back up and after a lot of finagling and some very choice words, got it right side up. The only thing we had to bail with was the cup from my thermos and an empty Pepsi bottle, so it took a while to get enough water out for me to be able to get back in the boat.

You can be sure that I was careful to step into the middle of the doggone boat this time. The best news however was apparently the commotion kept the eagle from grabbing the duck. I guess he figured if he waited a little longer, the old fool in the boat would drown himself and he could get a big enough meal to last him and his family a while.

I was finally able to retrieve Chase’s first duck and we let several more ducks get by while admiring it. Over the next couple of hours, Chase got a few more shots but we were so tickled with his first duck that it didn’t matter one bit that he didn’t hit any of them.

Soon it was time to head to the bank, so we picked up the decoys, cleaned up our trash and made our way back to the landing and our little adventure was over.

Thank you to the fine folks at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources who made this possible. Y’all do a great job for the kids and I for one certainly appreciate it.

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Outdoors writer Wes Murphy is a periodic contributor to The Times and Democrat.

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