Have you ever had a moment with your dog that you desperately wanted to capture on camera–a first point, first retrieve, some poignant milestone–and then utterly missed it, either through sheer operator incompetence or equipment failure? It happened to me yesterday morning on a duck hunt, and I’m still kicking myself for it.
Like many other duck hunters in my area, my season has been hampered by a profound lack of huntable water. Almost all the areas I hunt are either bone-dry or so low as to be rendered effectively un-huntable. As a result, the dog’s and my duck season has been pretty miserable to this point. Nevertheless, after seeing thousands and thousands of mallards on a recent South Dakota pheasant hunt (more on that in the next blog) and reading about them I decided to put on my walking shoes (or waders) and go find a spot to hunt on my local reservoir, and low water be damned. A cold front was coming through and I had visions of shooting a few of those 750,000 mallards that were sure to be pouring into the state ahead of it.
So we walked, my old chessie and I. And walked. And walked some more, (or trudged, rather) across the dry, exposed portions of the lake bed until I finally found an area with some water close enough to shoreline cover to conceal us. I hurriedly set the decoys, arranged the cattails into a makeshift blind, and then waited for dense clouds of mallards to slowly corkscrew out of the sky. Two frigid, freeze-dried and utterly duckless hours later, a lone pair of mallards, perhaps the only two mallards on the entire damn lake, cupped into the decoys and I managed to scratch the drake down. At least we were on the board, but those 750,000 mallards never did show up. What did show, up, however, (another two duckless hours later) right before I decided to call it a day, was one of those rare gifts from the duck gods that are sometimes bestowed upon long-suffering hunters. It was a lone long-tailed duck, an extremely rare sight in these parts and a species I’ve never had the chance to bag. The duck, a hen, flew right into the line of divers I had set up out past my small mallard spread. As it pitched in I shot, and in a rare display of minimum competence, actually hit it.
I sent Tess, and as she was swimming back I grabbed the camera and readied for “The Shot” as she came out of the water. It was important that I get “The Shot” for a number of reasons. One, I don’t usually do mounts, because I usually can’t afford them. As a result, when it comes to memories of the hunt I generally rely on a decent photo and maybe a few feathers taped into a journal. Second, in 2011 on this very blog I wrote about dog bucket lists and how I wanted to get Tess to 20 species of ducks brought to hand, especially sea ducks. Well, here was species number 16, and it was a sea duck. In Oklahoma. Can’t get more milestone than that. And third, editors are always hounding writers about photos. ‘Nuff said.
So I press the power button on the camera–the very same camera I had been taking fairly useless pictures with all morning (like the one above) while wasting precious battery power–and the camera promptly tells me to bugger off and then shuts itself down. Not in so many words, but basically, yeah. Desperate, I try again, and again, but the camera is as dead as the duck that now lies at my feet. I missed “The Shot” and now I can’t even stage a nice photograph with the duck in Tess’ mouth.
I carefully wrapped the duck in my headnet and stowed it in my bag, thinking that I could maybe take some pics when I get home and grab the spare battery that I should have brought with me in the first place. But long-dead ducks never look as good as fresh-dead ducks, and the pictures I took looked exactly like what they were: a dead, stiff, duck in what is obviously a back yard. So now the long-tailed duck is in the freezer and will be going to the taxidermist. And the bill from the taxidermist will hopefully serve as an expensive reminder to never again leave the spare batteries on the workbench, because given a choice, I’d much rather have the picture of my dog coming out of the lake with that duck in her mouth than the actual duck on my wall.
What about you? Ever miss an opportunity you’d like to have back?