In the late 1940’s, my Dad bought a Montgomery and Wards 5HP Sea King outboard motor, brand new! Up to that point, it was probably my Dad’s most prized possession, with possible exception of his 1937 Hudson Terraplane automobile. It freed him up from having to take his beer-guzzling friends when he went fishing, and it freed me from rowing several miles on the Wabash River while Dad tended his fishing accoutrements. In 1949, I was 14 years old, and had been rowing for several years. My arms were beginning to resemble Popeye’s to some extent. We used the new motor a lot, fishing from spring to fall, and duck hunting in the winter. Winter in Indiana is sometimes brutal. When I was in high school, whomever was in charge of the annual traditional Garfield High School vs. Wiley High School football game on Thanksgiving week end, canceled the game due to cold weather. In addition, when I married there, 10 years hence, it was 20 below zero, and blowing 20 knots out of the north on our wedding night in January.
That weather is just what the red-blooded duck hunter looks for. An excuse to drink. After we had built our cabin on the Wabash River, about 10 miles north of our hometown, Terre Haute, we moved our fishing and hunting efforts up there. There were advantages to the move. Less people fished and hunted there, so the yield was usually better, and ten miles less people defiled our river.
On one particular duck hunting expedition, we had a two boat hunting fleet, with Dad and me in one boat, and his friends, Howard Montague and Joe Parrett in the other. It was December or January, and cold as hell. The river was partially frozen over, foggy and quiet at five in the morning. The other boat went north a short distance to hunt in a small creek, known to be a habitat of Daffy and the boys, while dad and I floated silently, without starting the motor, down to Broulitt’s Creek on the other side of the river. Except for a few cabins, like ours, the river was uninhabited (and uninhibited) in this area. The drift took an hour or so, and we had made a small stove out of a coffee can with charcoal lumps to keep our trigger fingers warm. We seldom saw a game warden in our time up there. It was said that, during the depression, wardens had about the same life expectancy as a Marine hitting the beach in Guadalcanal. There was a fairly large Serbian/Italian settlement at Clinton, Indiana, just north of us, and nobody was going to deny them feeding their families in hard times. Dad and I had 12 gauge Remington automatic shotguns, which, by law, were “plugged” to hold only three shots during duck season. We removed the plugs, and loaded up seven cartridges in each gun. Being semi-pro hunters, we used different loads, one after another, for the projected task of killing every goddam duck in Parke County. The first rounds were #8 birdshot, and the last were Super X #4 game loads for the ones trying to get away. The river had flooded recently, after a thaw, and had been up in the cornfields. When it froze over, about a quarter inch thick, the water receded and left a sheet of ice suspended in the air, about three feet above the ground in the fields. Cows were grazing in some areas, and making a hell of a racket as they moved about the fields. A large flock of Mallard “Green Head” ducks frequented the creek, and fed on the left over corn from the previous harvest. The noisy cows did not alarm the ducks, and we were able to tie the boat to a tree, and walk the last few hundred yards, crashing the ice, alongside the cows. As we approached the creek, we laid out a plan for maximum duck harvest, with Dad shooting left and me shooting right.
When we peered over the edge of the creek, we were treated to duck heaven. A couple of hundred ducks chuckled happily at their last meal. Our strategy in this situation was to flush the ducks, getting them to fly to our level on the creek bank before we opened fire. We never, ever, shot them on the water. The creek was partially frozen over, about half and half, which would help our recovery of the haul. We flushed the flock, and being crack shots, knocked down a dozen green headed drakes. Good news and bad news. Ten of them were on the ice, or in the creek, which flowed fairly swiftly. Two were across the creek, on the far bank, and worse than that, they were in my sector. Dad had already found a long stick to fetch the floaters, and we gathered the ten accessible ones quickly. “Goddamit, Jughead, we are not going to leave those ducks on the other side”. I was in favor of doing just that, but he would not hear of it. We walked up the creek until we found a fairly thick patch of ice, all the way across. Giving me his gun, He carefully slid and walked across a small area that was totally frozen over, and barked at me to come over and walk back down the creek to get the other two ducks. Halfway across the creek, I fell through the ice, and was only able to hold my position with the shotguns across the hole. Dad found a small downed tree and pushed it across the hole. He took the guns and slid them to the bank, then grabbed the back of my collar and pulled me out of the hole. We made it to the shore safely, but it was zero degrees, and we were a mile from the boat, and two miles from Joe’s cabin, where there was fire in the potbellied stove. I took off all my clothes, and Dad gave me half of his. I was as blue as a Smurf, and chattering. I was on the verge of passing out as we crashed our way back to the boat and lit the little hibachi. Dad piled some more clothes on me, and we made it back to Joe Parrett’s place, where there was a roaring fire to welcome us. I was nearly finished when we got there, and it took all three men to get me inside.
Joe did not have much in the way of food at the cabin. He located three cans of peas. What a feast! He placed the cans on top of the potbellied stove, and got to drinking. Dad and Howard took our boat down to the creek and fetched my clothes, which were now frozen solid, and the ducks. Joe drank a half case of Strohs (shorts, spelled backwards) beer in practice for the serious drinking soon to follow. The men proudly walked in the door, holding up the ducks for us to see. A Kodak moment. No camera, but their smiles turned to horror, as two of the cans of peas exploded and plastered us with thousand degree peas! We all had scalding burns on our faces and hands.
Dad and I loaded up and went home. Walking in the door with our gear, Mother asked “How was hunting?” Dad: “Great! We got 12 ducks!”