DJ and Me

“Do me a favor, Mrs. Lanier, and shut your left eye,” the instructor said. “My left eye?” “Yes” he replied, “When you see the target clearly, shut your left eye and shoot.” After several misses in a row all I could think was yeah right. Obligingly I did what he asked and wham, the target exploded. “Now, just do the same thing for me again.” Wham, the second target broke. Wow, what do you know, two in a row!

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Old Canvas Gunning Coat

Today is a rainy day and I can’t quite decide on what to do. Like you, I’ve hunted ducks and geese, fished for stripers and blues, and dug quahogs and clams all in the rain. And just once, all three in the same day!

But today is different. I’m thinking of excuses for not going. It’s cozy here by the fire. I can clean and oil the guns, wax the rods, or take an old toothbrush to some of the green gunk on my reels. Or I could start a new book, or finish an old one I’ve read a hundred times…  It’s a rainy day, a great day, and anything is possible.

When I was a young boy, I had very little in the way of foul weather gear. But I did have an old, heavy, canvas gunning coat left behind by a wealthy Duxbury gunner. It was much too big for me to wear when I got it, but dad had quietly given it to me just the same, in his simple, New England Yankee way. My father was the gardener of a man’s estate, and when the owner passed on, the wife had given the gunning coat to dad because she knew he enjoyed hunting, too. The old, canvas gunning coat had long been bleached the color of butternut from years of hard use. But it was in excellent condition, comfortably broken in, rugged and tough like the men that wore them.

I use to stare at that hunting coat hanging on a nail in the cellar, and dream of the old gunner that must have owned it. He was a “well-to-do” as my father was fond of saying, and had a gunning stand way up in the marshes of the Back River of Duxbury, Massachusetts. The “blind” was an elaborate affair, complete with fieldstone fireplace, bunk rooms, a decoy room, a Great Room in the middle, with table and chairs for meals and playing cards – especially the night before opening day! There was a piano and a couple of old, leather chairs with plenty of character, sitting around the fire. A small kitchen and a wet bar gave the final touches. Apple wood smoke and steaming wet dogs filled the air with that sweet smell of autumn that all hunters love…

Outside, surrounding the camp, were the shallow “ponds,” large and small tidal pools that had been dug into the marsh to hold a bunch of hand-carved decoys – and lots of ducks. On one side of the ponds were the breastworks –  long, chest-high fences of boards and brush behind which the gunners would wait for the morning and evening flights of ducks.

As the hunters waited in their heavy, bleached, canvas gunning coats, sipping coffee in the cold dawn, dogs at their sides, they spoke in quiet tones and talked of the beauty and wonder of it all. The sandpipers and great blue herons, the hawks and endless lines of starlings migrating South; the golden glow of marsh grass waving in the breeze, the clams squirting up little, spouts of water. The false-dawn of the eastern sky that looked finer than any Monet… and more than once, the ghostly glimpse of a mighty buck sneaking along the marshs edge. Then… the whistling of wings and the last seconds of silence… as the birds cupped their wings and turned into the decoys…

When the men sat around the fire that night after opening day, enjoying steamed clams, roasted black duck, perhaps a refreshment or two, they thought much and spoke little of how they felt – humbled, bittersweet, and young again… The years had passed quickly as the “old men” always said they would. The children had all grown and moved away and life was pretty simple again. One of them was thinking back to a little boy he remembered very well. A little boy staring up at an old canvas gunning coat, dreaming of the day when he would be old enough to go along, too.

Capt. David Bitters is a writer/photographer and a striped bass/sea duck hunting guide from Massachusetts. His photos and essays have appeared in over one-hundred magazines. Capt. Bitters is currently finishing his first book, A Sportsman’s Fireside Reader – Tales of Hunting, Fishing, and Other Outdoor Pleasures. Contact him at or (781) 934-2838. You can also write him at P.O. Box 366 Duxbury, MA 0233.

Argentina Wing Shooting 101 OR a Practical Guide to Volume Wing Shooting

Okay, so I’m an outfitter, and yes, I have a business in Argentina. This article isn’t about any of that. It is about what you need to know if you want to go, and how to figure the cost of going. For 15 of the last 20 years, I was a consumer. I did my research, booked my own flights, paid my money, and went hunting. That changed five years ago, but I believe that, now as an outfitter, with a lot of real world experience, I have a moral and ethical obligation to educate and explain to potential Argentina wing shooting hunters how to put together this hunt of a lifetime and what it really, really costs.

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As Good As It Gets

Story and photos by Mike Childress

Last Friday was atypical. I got an invitation from my brothers- and father-in-law to come out to the property and take my chances against clay pigeons thrown from the back of an old International Harvester pick-up.

It’s been a while since I shot clay birds. More than a little while actually, from the days my dad and I used to reserve our Sundays for the local trapshooting club. And, after a day of office work, it was a welcome change. After rummaging around for what seemed like an eternity I found my shotgun, shells, and even some “birds” that my father-in-law had given me for a birthday present the year before, still unopened. My wife and I made quick preparations for the 15-minute trek north. Car seats, check. Diaper bag, check. Guns and ammo, check. We were off.

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9½ Hours With Gil & Vicki Ash

If you’ve ever watched Gil and Vicki Ash on their instructional DVDs, you walk away with the feeling that you really want to spend some time with these earnest Texans. They’re smart, funny and engaging. Well, what we discovered over a 9½ hour workshop with them is that they are exactly the same people in person as they are on your TV screen.

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Hunting the Wiley Chukar in Utah

Having hunted most of the species of upland birds in North America, I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of the chukar. Hunting chukar is an exciting adventure that always includes a surprise or two. Chukars are not only fun to hunt, they are also one of the most hearty birds to put down and typically don’t present a head shot on the rise as pheasant tend to do – making them challenging as well.

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Dark (Duck) Thoughts

I have a friend who is a contractor, who likes to hunt black ducks. He handles his downed birds with as much grace as a piece of scrap lumber. Not that he doesn’t appreciate his birds, he does, and he is a simple, but effective cook. But as much as I enjoy gunning with him, he and I are two different animals, if you will.

I hold my birds in utter awe – no, I don’t mean that – I watch in utter awe, when any bird I have shot at falls from the sky. After making a retrieve that would fill most dogs with envy, I sit in my blind holding the duck like a rare jewel, stroking its feathers, and turning it over and over in my hands. I have taken something from the skies of New England; a duck that has flown thousands of miles and will now be stuffed with sauerkraut, wrapped in bacon and roasted in my oven at 350 for 1 hr, 45 minutes. It is a miraculous moment and I bow and give thanks to the Maker.

I use to think black ducks never came into my spread because they did not like the way my decoys looked. Now, years later, I know better. I have watched pair after pair of wary black ducks fly over a flock of six-hundred real black ducks swimming, feeding, preening and quacking their heads off, only to land two-hundred yards away in a ditch. I can sympathize with the giant flock because I know just how they feel. Hurt, rejected, and frustrated for starters. You can throw in confusion and utter despair but keep that to yourself. Duck hunters don’t have to share everything…

The season long over, I have but one black duck left in my freezer along with lots of “road-kill” venison. That’s another story that I can’t get into now. Right now, I am dreaming of a black duck that pulled away from a big flock flying across the marsh. He has seen my three LL Bean cork decoys bobbing in the breeze and my hand-carved African zebra-wood call is to my lips. I utter the hail call, feeding chatter and then three quiet hen quacks… He swings down wind and then turns into the breeze, fighting his way to my decoys with all the speed of a sparrow in a tremendous gale. Suddenly, he is there – hovering at twenty yards over my blocks! I rise, mount, and fire my gun three times. My duck wheels, climbs into orbit, and disappears over the horizon, passing a flock of migrating starlings on his way, at warp speed. But like I said to the eight-point buck that walked past my stand unscathed this season, just wait until next year, my friend. Just wait until next year…

Capt. David Bitters is a writer/photographer and a striped bass/sea duck hunting guide from Massachusetts. His photos and essays have appeared in over one-hundred magazines. Capt. Bitters is currently finishing his first book, A Sportsman’s Fireside Reader – Tales of Hunting, Fishing, and Other Outdoor Pleasures. Contact him at or (781) 934-2838. You can also write him at P.O. Box 366 Duxbury, MA 0233.

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