“The years run too short and the days too fast.” —1978, “Time Passages” by Al Stewart



IT ALWAYS AMAZES me that time runs so slow when you are waiting for your favorite trip of the year, while days spent on the trip fly by like a canvasback duck at 50 mph.

As it has for the previous 28 years, the 12 days of my 29th trip to the prairie country of North Dakota this year flew by just like that. One morning, I was firing my first shot and seemingly the very next morning, I had the truck packed and pointed east toward home.

I got to the little white house on the prairie four days before duck season opened, expecting to fish for three of those days. For those three days, the wind held steady at 25 mph, with gusts more than 40. I thought it prudent for me and my 10-foot jon boat to stay off the water.

During those three days, I did a lot of duck scouting. Making my scouting forays even more exciting were the moose I saw while poking around the countryside. A cow and bull, apparently curious about the guy stopped on a gravel road 300 yards from where they were crossing a harvested wheat field, meandered to within 30 yards of the guy and his truck during my first outing. The next day, my son and I spotted a cow.

When the rest of the four-generation bunch of nine Maines boys arrived, moose sightings continued. The three young gaffers, 12 and 14 years of age, got some great video footage of a nice bull on their cellphones, while my son and cousin got up close and personal with a cow, her two calves and a wide-racked bull all together early one morning.

As for the hunting, opening morning started in typical fashion for me as I missed three straight easy shots. But holding to my old theory that “If you don’t let ’er fly, they ain’t gonna die,” I kept shooting. My shooting eye finally came around a bit and by morning’s end, I had two greenwing teal, one gadwall and three greenhead mallards to show for two-thirds of a box of shells.

The three youngsters, all great-grandsons of my Uncle Hank, got off to a slow shooting start as well, but by the end of the second day of hunting, were up there on the leader board. Jordan, on his first hunting trip, brought down a Canada goose to supply the highlight of the day.

Tanner, the youngest, joined me in playing the “go in over your waders” game. With a gadwall within 5 yards of my reach and Gordie out of action because of an injured neck, I threw caution to the wind and waded those final steps, the last three of which brought a flood of icy North Dakota pond water all the way to the bottom of my booted feet. Fortunately, unlike in a similar scenario a few years ago, I remembered to grab my cellphone out of my shirt pocket first so it did not die an ugly death like the one on the earlier occasion.

Jordan then fell prey to the old “North Dakota muck bottom grabbing you by the ankles trick,” during which he described a perfect parabola, ending with a perfect face plant in another pond. Of the young guys, only Brady escaped the feel of icy water flowing over the top of his waders. Coward.

Stories told at the end of the day are always one of the best parts of any hunt, anywhere, anytime and there were plenty of those this year. For me, stories told by wide-eyed, first-time North Dakota youth hunters are best of all. There were plenty of those.

Without question, duck dinners also rank very high for me and my gang. After the first ducks brought in opening day were breasted, we had the makings of dinner. New Orleans-style duck breasts piled on heaps of red beans and rice for the first time went over big.

The next night, it was wild rice and duck breast casserole with mushrooms, onions and a bunch of other stuff thrown in, along with biscuits and grilled green beans that filled us up.

I spent one afternoon taking a trip down memory lane about 25 miles north to the country where I first started hunting ducks all those years ago. Uncle Hank and I saw some big time changes. A lot of favorite sloughs and ponds of old, either dried up during drought years or ditched and drained dry, were now tilled and planted fields.

We never shot a duck, didn’t even fire a shot that entire afternoon, but we had plenty of time to talk ducks and remember days of long ago when we cut our teeth on north Wisconsin duck hunting.

During the second half of the week, the family hunters went home, making room for my Illinois gang. It was more of the same. A lot of hunting, storytelling, trash talking, eating and napping with tired dogs made the days pass quickly. One morning hunt with “Tennessee” John Cox made for another story to tell in years to come. We even brought in five ducks that went into the duck jambalaya that served as the main dish of the evening dinner.

Then, just like that, time expired. After sweeping floors, washing the last of the dirty dishes, hauling out the last bags of trash and wandering through the house once more to make sure it was ready to close up, it was time to go.

At 71, I now fully understand how the years or weeks run too short and the days too fast.