The Last Shot at Duck Season

The end of duck season always comes like a hard slap in the face. You can see it coming, almost in slow motion, but you’re still taken aback by its abrupt, stinging finality.

So when you get an unexpected shot at a post-season hunt – not just any post-season hunt, but one of epic potential – it feels like a dream.

 That’s how it felt when I found out I’d been drawn for a little-known late duck hunt at Delevan, my favorite national wildlife refuge. Not only did I get to hunt there weeks after the regular season ended, but I would have the opportunity to hunt deep in its northern closed zone – a place where hunters never set foot, and even the nature photographers aren’t allowed.

The only hitch was that my boyfriend Hank and I would have to hunt with two other people we barely knew. OK, I’ll be honest: We’d met them, and we found them to be irritating as hell. They were people we’d never hunt with during the season. But for an opportunity like this, we really couldn’t be picky.

As expected, when hunt day came, these guys – I’ll call them Bob and Joe – were a royal pain in the butt from the start. They took forever to get ready. They figured since there would be no competition from other hunters, there was no rush. It was like being subjected to Chinese water torture when valuable duck-hunting minutes were ticking away.

When Joe and Bob finally got their act together, and we finally jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops one has to go through for such an amazing opportunity, we were taken not to the promised land of duck hunting, but to a cavernous room with an array of empty seats clustered in a broad arc around a table.

Oh, good Lord.

And … my mom was there.

But that’s not the weirdest thing. Not by a long shot.

President Barack Obama was there. He wanted to congratulate us personally for being drawn for such a great hunt, which he did with great formality before walking over to shake our hands and make some painfully forced small talk about firearms.

I started to tell him what I was carrying, but then I wondered: Do I want to say that? And how the hell did the Secret Service let us in here with our shotguns? Uh, dudes, we’re armed.

It didn’t matter – they were about to whisk him away anyway. He gave my mom a hug. He gave me a hug. Then we had a group hug.

As he walked away, a striking figure in a dark suit, the smell of his cologne still lingering in the air, I looked at my mom in utter bafflement.

“Did we just have a group hug with the president?”

Before she could answer, this horrible screeching tone began blasting in our ears.

Crap, this hunt was never going to happen.

I reached up in the darkness and fumbled for the alarm clock. Slap. Slap. Slap. There’s the button. Shut the hell up, stupid clock.

It was 5 a.m., and I had an enormous stack of grading waiting for me.

I shut my eyes again for a moment before heaving upward, feeling around for any cats who might need a scratch.

Dammit. I really wanted to go on that hunt.

Funny thing is I actually did get a last bite at the apple, minus the presidential flair, just a week earlier.

California had an unusual post-season spring goose hunt this year. All the good guides were booked from the second that season was announced last summer, but one hunter canceled last minute with our favorite guides. I fired off just two questions in response to the email: “How much, and do you take Visa?”

It cost more than I could afford, but he said he could take Visa, so I didn’t care.

One of the guys did show up 10 minutes late to this hunt, but it was no biggie – he was no Bob or Joe. We had plenty of time to get situated in our layout blinds.

The hunt wasn’t epic, because the “X” had moved about 400 yards east of where it’d been when the guides had scouted the place the day before. But we still got plenty of action.

And the company was good. Perhaps the other clients were worried about having to bite their tongues when they saw a woman was on the hunt, but that didn’t last long. When I went a short way down a ditch to take one final leak before shoot time, I flushed two roosters about 10 feet from where I’d bared my butt, prompting one guide to shout, “Holly, are you flushing c*** over there?”

“Every day, baby!” I shouted right back. That set the tone for the day.

It felt so good to be out there.

Relaxed, yet watchful. Ears tickled by the cacophony of snow geese and specklebellies on that X. The light-hearted conversation interrupted by a sentinel’s alert: “Coming in from the east!” The hilarity of half a dozen hunters diving for layout blinds, telltale barrels peeking out over our toes. The awkward heaving motion when the guide said, “Kill ‘em!” The guffaws when geese escaped unharmed. The satisfied shouts when some came down.

I didn’t want it to end, even when it was clear we were done because even the distant X had been vacated.

It felt so good.

But that dream can’t last forever.

It’s time to rejuvenate now. Time for frequent trips to the skeet range as the sun grows hotter. Time to catch up with the regulars I never see during duck season. OK, the regulars I abandon during duck season without so much as a glance back.

Cottontails open July 1. Doves, September 1. And the ducks? I’ll see them again come late October.

Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, food photographer and college journalism lecturer. She writes a blog about hunting at shoots food photos for boyfriend Hank Shaw, who writes a blog about wild food at


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