If you have ever hunkered in a ducking “hide” (old school for duck blind) in the deep shadows of night’s swan song under the light of a silvery full moon listening to a light breeze ruffle cattails while a far-off mallard quacks marsh revelry, you know there is much more to this thing we of the camo and hip-boot ilk call duck hunting. Trappings like the abject solitude of being afield when normal folks are still tucked in blissful slumber environs and the curious allure of pulling a canoe chockful of gunny-sacked decoys, shell boxes, gear bags and trusty “pipes” (shotguns) through shoreline tangles are just a few of the puzzling reasons why waterfowl hunting grips some of us so soundly.
Oddly enough, those of us who have without hesitation frittered away many mornings duck hunting with reckless abandon don’t think twice about how there is very little talking because waterfowl partners pretty much know exactly what to do and when to do it. We also understand how every predawn is as awesome as any good son or daughter of the North could ask for. To wit: even though there is sometimes a heavy smother of clouds that drape over us like a wet blanket, while others have clarion clear night skies and the heavy black sky is studded with glitter, each is unique and priceless.
Nothing against the heavy clouds, ducks, in fact, seem to fly better then, but when the stars and moon are out, predawn duck blinds become extraordinary places, special spots city-dwellers now call “dark light sanctuaries,” which are defined as “public or private lands that have an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment.” Interesting, isn’t it, how we who live in such places have no need to define them? Although our prized and pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), by the way, has just recently been designated as such, it is actually not the darkest place in the United States, that honor goes to the Gila National Forest in New Mexico where the nearest source of artificial light is more than 40 miles away — making it a “must do” for stargazers.
For some of us, every star-filled duck hunting predawn reminds us of our dads who took us into the wonderful world of duck hunting darkness telling us there was one bright star for every good person who had ever lived. As for the Big Dipper, why, when we were youngsters, it seemed so close we felt inclined to put on rain gear lest it pour its contents on us! For the proverbial icing on the cake, when charged particles from the sun strike atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, they cause electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state and when these electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release a photon: light. In layman’s terms, this process creates the beautiful aurora or northern lights.
Although described by many for eons, this description from Kenny Taylor in his 1989 article, “Auroras - Heavenly Lights,” in “National Geographic” pretty much sums up the phenomenon, “The whole dome of the sky was awash with color: cascades of yellow-green and blushes of crimson fanning from a darker point high overhead. As they fell in broad rays, they shifted and changed in brightness, sometimes intense in one place, then cool, then hot. It was like looking up into the heart if a flower of glorious light whose petals rippled in a breeze that could not be felt—a breath from beyond this planet...The show peaked for an hour.” Although this special night-light show is free to all, especially for those of us who live in these dark light sanctuaries, those of us who have seen this dance of sky colors from a campsite, duck blind or deer stand have lived it as though we were part of another world, a special world seemingly void of humans.
As for full moons, even though 2020 has had its disarray, October 2020 has blessed us with the astrological gift of two full moons, the second, of course, being a “Blue Moon.” Then, to boot, the second moon actually appears on Halloween, a rarity.
The first full moon to rise in October is, of course, the “Harvest Moon” (Oct. 1 this year) and it is nearest to the start of fall or the autumnal equinox. As we all pretty much know, this full moon gets its name because it correlates with the traditional crop harvest historically ranging from indigenous peoples to farmers. The second full moon, the “Blue Moon,” is called the “Hunters’ Moon” as it corresponds to the hunting of waterfowl and big game, especially whitetail deer. This year, because it occurs on Halloween (“All Hallow’s Eve”), some are calling it the “Hunters’ Blue Moon on Halloween.” How rare is it? It happens every 18 or 19 years. Correspondingly, and not mentioned very often because it is not really catchy and is void of color, is that when there are two full moons there are also two new moons, which are called “Black New Moons.” Although not too appealing for songs and poetry, they nevertheless exist and are, of course, acknowledged by astronomers.
In that musical vein, if you were wondering about there being lists for “moon” references in song titles, yes, of course there are. Here are some that made several classic rock music “moon” hit parade lists. Hope they are among your favorite “moon” songs. Here are a few in a somewhat year chronological year order: “Blue moon of Kentucky” (Bill Monroe, 1946 and Elvis, 1956); “Moon River” (Jerry Butler, Audrey Hepburn, 1961 and Andy Williams, 1962); “Blue Moon” (Marcels, 1961); “Bad Moon Rising” (CCR, 1969); “Dark Side of the Moon” (Pink Floyd, 1973); “Shame on the Moon” (Bob Seger, 1982); “Bark at the Moon” (Ozzy Osbourne & Black Sabboth, 1983); “Neon Moon” (Brooks & Dunn, 1991) and “Man on the Moon” (R.E.M., 1992). Voted number one “moon in the title” song in classic rock? Whether you agree or not, Ozzy has it with “Bark at the Moon.” Interestingly enough and perhaps because it is really an oldie, even pre-rock, ranked right up there for those who like the soothing, easy listening sound was Doris Day’s 1953 hit “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”
As you enjoy the last stages of 2020’s “Harvest Moon” and savor all that October graces us with, hopefully fond thoughts of caring and colorful mentors, family and friends will soar into your lives with warm memories, both of the outdoor world and life in general. If you duck hunt, may these memories warm you like the sight of those magical visitations of ducks from the sky.
We also hope you again get to listen to the tales of old when dogs were either “wonderdogs” or “knuckleheads,” when the wonderdogs like “Buck” or “Ammo” would work the shorelines flushing out wounded ducks for parallel-paddling canoed hunters to finish off or the “knuckleheads” who would make it their responsibility to garner every decoy line when retrieving or make great retrieves only to hit the shore running with ducks in mouths to chomp a few morsels of feathers and raw duck flesh before slinking off when their madmen masters came thrashing through the brush with expletives a-flying.
Then, after the hunt is over, whether you once called them “flying liver” or other nefarious culinary names, be sure to remember how standing in the muck or slowly settling in a floating bog or rocking precariously in a flat-bottomed Jon boat or tippy canoe (and not the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe) was well worth it as there is no meal quite so satisfying as slowly grilled or baked with wild rice ducks or geese. Also, keep in mind what the old-timers taught us, “Respect what you hunt, eat what you kill.”
Finally, even though many modern hunters lament how like Bob Seeger’s “today’s music ain’t got the same soul,” current duck hunters are cut from a different cloth, even though times and equipment and partners have changed, duck hunters really haven’t. Whether it’s high mallards dotting a bluebird sky or bluebills in the snow, what Gordon MacQuarrie wrote in his classic, “Ducks? You Bat You!” (the first of his famous stories of the Old Duck Hunters’ Association) is still a trumpet call to marsh magic: “Twice again the sound of many wings cleaving the frosty air was borne down to us. At no time did I dare look up. The sound faded, disappeared entirely, then swelled again, louder and louder. When it seemed it could grow no louder, it changed to a hissing diminuendo. That sound was my first introduction to the music of stiff, set wings on a long glide down.”
As you appreciate the rest of the “Harvest Moon” and October’s wonders, consider this quote from famed American poet, Carl Sandburg, “The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.” And, when you do, remember the old lullaby, “I see the moon and the moon sees me/God bless the moon and God bless me,” then reach out to someone who is lonesome.
Nik and Rod Dimich of Dimich Outdoors are on Mercury Marine’s and Ray’s Sport & Marine’s pro staffs. Rod is also a pro-staffer for L&M Supply. To contact Dimich Outdoors, please email: email@example.com. Kristin Dimich contributes to this column