When it rains it pours…
© 2014 – Thomas Dugas
I grew up in South Louisiana, right in the heart of Cajun Country. I started hunting in 1971. We were a large family and idle time was rare. Hunting was considered by everyone except my dad as idle time as both generations ran businesses, my maternal grandfather a general store, and my father a service station located conveniently across the street from home. But, my dad liked to eat game meat.
I loved to hunt. My paternal grandfather was the source of my hunting passion. An old swamp Cajun, as they are called then and today, he hunted and fished year round. Hunting season for him was any day he woke up alive. As a tow headed kid snapping at his heels, he found in me a hunting companion that would cheerfully undertake any chore in order to be invited to the daily hunt.
My arsenal then was limited to a bolt action magazine fed .410 shotgun, a single shot shotgun in 20 ga., and a Winchester Model 61 Pump .22 rifle. I was entrusted with the shotguns at 8 years of age, but I had to wait until 10 until I could be entrusted with the .22 rifle, as my fathers’ reasoning of the day was that the .22 rifle posed a greater danger than the shotguns, distance wise. So I cut my teeth on that little bolt action .410 & 20 ga. I was a shot gunner first and foremost.
It’s fair to say my grandfather harvested rather than hunted. He hunted to put meat on the table, and ammunition was expensive. Abandoned field corn was laboriously ground and scattered next to a watering hold to attract doves by the hundreds. One or two quick shots produced a tow sack of tasty edible mourners. Hunting at the edges of farmers fields revealed dozens of cottontails which the little .22 made short work of. We didn’t hunt for long but we came regularly returned home with table fare.
The family ate everything we brought to the table, no questions asked. I broke my first tooth on bird shot as I bit into a fricasseed rabbit leg. After the visit to the dentist, I vowed to improve my .22 rifle skills and focus on headshots versus shot gunning. I didn’t like eating birdshot.
By the time I was a teenager, I had taken to hunting on my own most of the time. I loved to wander the deep forests that surrounded the local lake. I would be in the woods well before dawn and usually finished by 8AM after the sun was up. Squirrel hunting was a favorite and I was deadly with my trusty Winchester 22.
As I often did, I traded firearms and other notions among my hunting buddies. It was how I got in trade my first semi-automatic shotgun. The years have clouded my memory on many things, but I remember that Ithaca/SKB 12 gauge fondly. My first semi-automatic and I quickly mastered it and began to take an interest in duck hunting.
Louisiana Wood Duck…
A patch of woods I often hunted held a relatively large amount of wood ducks in addition to the other usual suspects. But wood ducks were special, my father love to eat wood duck, and no matter the transgression I had committed (skipping school, et al) it was instantly forgotten if I walked into the house with a wood duck in my game bag.
In the fall of 1983 I was older and wiser with years of hunting under my belt. That year, southern Louisiana had a strong thunderstorm system move over the state for a period of five to six days. In those low lying parishes, many areas quickly flooded. A cool front followed the storm after it passed and temperatures dropped quickly. A perfect combination for duck hunting. With the fields flooded and harvested grain floating on top of the water, duck food was easy pickings and the ducks were thick as thieves in my usual haunts.
Ithaca/SKB Semi-Automatic Shotgun…
The morning after the storm passed I quickly donned my insulated chest waders and hunting gear, grabbed that Ithaca/SKB and my army surplus ammunition belt that held my ammunition. I was out the door on my way to my favorite patch of woods in record time.
To my amazement when I rolled up to the cow pasture that bordered that patch of woods, there was three feet of water over the field, more than I had anticipated. It was flooded as far as the eye could see. I was tempted to return home but almost instantly I saw signs of duck activity. Dawn was just beginning to break, it was cold, I was wearing the right gear, had shotgun in hand with plenty of ammunition, and I was young. The decision was instant; “let’s go duck hunting” I thought.
I stepped off the roadway and entered the flooded field. That water was cold...let me assure you. The chill worked its way though that insulated wader outfit quickly. My teeth chattered a bit, but fortunately, by moving steadily, I achieved a balance between too cold and warm enough to hunt. I quickly made my way to the edge of the woods where field and trees met. As soon as I got near the wood line, two teal broke off the water like they had been launched out of cannons. I snapped the butt stock against my shoulder and connected on the second shot, the little blue/green bird neatly folding and smacking into the water. I waded over and claimed my prize and tucked the still warm bird into my game bag. “One down, a few more to go” I thought to myself.
I decided to try and rustle up a few wood ducks. My strategy was to walk slowly thought the waist deep water along the wood line and catch the ducks entering the flooded pasture to feed. It wasn’t long before two of the beautiful green headed wood ducks sailed right over me… beginning to flare towards the water. They hadn’t seen me against the wood line. They quickly landed about 20 yards from me and I waited just a second before moving towards them. My movement was instantly detected and both birds rose out of the water.
I was ready. Two shots rang out in quick succession and two wood ducks splashed into the cold water. I was happy. I had been hunting for less than thirty minutes and I had reached my limit. I could return home and still make it to school on time. I slowly waded towards the floating ducks to claim them.
I reached out to push aside a floating brown mass thinking it was a pile of leaves; my attention was on the ducks. I didn’t want to lose them if they sank. But, it wasn’t leaves I pushed aside. It was a floating mass of red ants, South Louisiana’s tiny insect terrorists. They quickly took advantage of long sleeves and hitched a direct route inside my open top waders. I sloshed onward in blissful ignorance to the impending mayhem that was about to happen.
How red ants signal to one another to all bite in unison remains a mystery to me. But anyone who has ever had the misfortune to experience a red ant attack can attest to this mass communication system they seem to possess. They struck, and they stuck all at once. I felt the burning stings instantly and instinctively knew what had happened. I had walked into a floating pile of red ants and they were now inside my waders, biting me on my chest and shoulders, and likely had plans to head south for more tender parts unless I did something drastic. My brain exploded into action. “Kneel!” I thought, let the cold water enter the waders and it will freeze the little buggers. “No”, I thought, that will make it impossible to stand, and you might drown you idiot.” That thought was the end of thinking as the second round of bites began. Thinking time was over. I did the only sensible thing I could think of. I stripped.
I was raining black and blue words in the air around me as I placed my beloved Ithaca/SKB in the branches of a nearby tree and began stripping off my clothes. In seconds I was standing nearly naked in freezing waist deep water with ants covering my upper body, still in the process of an orchestrated attack. I didn’t stop to think lest I hesitate… I dunked myself into the freezing water and scraped off the ants. When I burst back up though the frigid water my skin was blue and covered with angry little bites. A temporary respite I quickly discovered.
Ants float. This was how I got in this mess in the first place. I was in the center of a still angry mass of ants and I probably was the largest land mass nearby. I looked down and could have sworn I heard one of them yell “all aboard boys! He’s back up!”
I hastily grabbed my shotgun and waders and started sloshing the 200 or so yards to my car. I don’t remember how I made it to that headland without freezing but I did. The welcome warmth of the still hot engine comforted me as I turned the blowers on full blast. I sat there numbed and shocked by what had just happened. As my now blue skin warmed, my nerve endings returned to full function and began registering the hundreds of bites I had sustained. “It just keeps getting worse I thought.” I put the car in drive and headed home. Fifteen minutes later I was standing on the carport at home. “Safe at last” I thought. I slung the waterlogged waders on my mom’s clothesline and the heavy waterlogged rig instantly snapped the 30 year old steel line. “When it rains it pours” I thought.
I walked into the back door of the house grateful to be home. As I entered the kitchen in my underwear my father was sitting at the table eating breakfast…alone. He said I looked like a blue & red polka dotted wet fish. Wet, shivering, I sat at the table with him and reached for the coffee pot. As I quickly told him what had transpired, from beginning to end he listened closely and nodded his head and clucked approvingly …seemingly to comfort me.
“Boy, that sure was an exciting morning you had Tom. I just have one question.”
“What’s that dad?”
“Where are the wood-ducks?”
And that my friend is really the rest of the story. I had to go back and get those two wood-ducks I had shot and left in that flooded field.
When it rains it pours.