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Well, that was a bust.

Opening day of duck season started with such high expectations. For some, it probably met expectations, but not for me and my bunch. There was, regrettably, some dialogue over whether to attribute our (water)fowl luck to the Hendricks Curse or the Volpe Curse.

All I can say is that when two cursed people convene in a duck blind, do not expect good things to happen.

The excitement was palpable at 5 a.m. last Saturday, as trucks filled the parking lot at McSwain's Sports Center in North Little Rock. I was there to meet Judge Joe Volpe and his son John Volpe for our first hunt together. Arriving 20 minutes early, I had a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, and coffee. The last friend I met for a duck hunt here was Basel Khalil of North Little Rock, a Palestinian immigrant that immersed himself in hunting in his quest to, in his words, "become Arkie."

Khalil got his baptism deer hunting in Johnson County, where he killed an 8-point buck on public land. Since then, he's become one of the most proficient deer hunters I know.

Our next outing was for ducks at Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. He rumbled into the parking lot with country music blaring.

Joe Volpe called Friday and immediately poisoned the well.

"I don't want to jinx us ..." he started.

"Then don't!"

Before I could say it, Volpe said he saw several hundred ducks at his spot the previous day. He was so excited he could scarcely contain himself. He said he would probably not be able to sleep that night, and that Cooper, his yellow Labrador retriever, would be a basket case.

A cold wind blew from the east, which was not favorable to the spot Volpe selected. Relocating to better spots would have encroached on other hunters, so we vowed to make the best of it.

The wind stiffened as dawn approached, causing the decoys to bob and drift in lifelike fashion. Minutes before shooting light, a flock of gadwalls lit far beyond the decoys, but they responded to our calls by swimming toward us.

"That can only help," I said. "We'll probably get a lot of birds drop in on them. Who wants to call the shot when it's time?"

"Why don't you do it?" Joe Volpe said.

At shooting time, about 75 gadwalls dropped in just beyond the outer ring of decoys. About 75-80 more circled above. Just as that second group cupped their wings and dropped their feet, hunters on the other side of a levee opened fire on ducks they were working.

Our cupped gadwalls flared and fled, as did the birds on the water. They were on their way out when we finally opened fire.

"You need to call the shot a little sooner," Volpe said. "Did you get mesmerized?"

"I wanted to get them all down," I said. "Mallards usually come in later in the morning, so I didn't think we wanted to over commit to a bunch of gaddies, anyway."

Naturally, that was the last bunch. A few gadwalls and mallards came in hot from behind, flared over the decoys and made a couple of rising passes before evacuating.

"They like the spread, but they can't get in here because of the wind," Volpe said.

"Next time a duck flares over those decoys, let's get on it fast," I said.

That opportunity came when two gadwalls cupped and flared.

"Take 'em!" I said.

John Volpe rose from my left and fired, and Joe Volpe shot from my right. One gadwall fell, and Cooper plunged in for the retrieve.

That was our last good chance. Cooper got so exasperated at the lack of activity that he spent 30 minutes mauling a big stick while whining. I could hear it in his voice. "Gotta retrieve! GOTTA retrieve!"

Periodically, Cooper entered the blind to molest the gadwall, but he was quickly evicted. When he finished deconstructing the stick, he ran to Joe Volpe's four-wheeler parked far in the distance. Cooper ran all around the four-wheeler. He jumped on top of the four-wheeler and sniffed the gear box on the rear deck.

"He's looking for his retrieving dummy," Volpe said.

Finally came that moment when you know the hunt is finished. The wind howled and the sky was clear. No ducks flew.

To Cooper's delight, Volpe assembled his retrieving dummy launcher.

"He can do this all day," Volpe said, "but he prefers real birds."

We all do, Coop. Sorry I blew it with those stupid gadwalls.

Sports on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Slow trigger annoys retriever in season opener

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