Mile 256 on Upper Mississippi – November 1, 2012
Shotgun blasts echo across the river like clockwork each morning. A moment after the first breaks the silence, the river erupts, transforming into a war zone for a few minutes until every duck close to one of those little grass huts is splattered across the water.
The river quiets after the initial volley. There’s still a shot or two when a bird ventures too close to a flock of bobbing decoys, but they’re spaced out, nothing compared to the chorus of lead flying skyward the moment it’s legal to shoot.
I saw the blinds going up for weeks. Strange little grass houses appearing on the river, some half done with the frame still visible. Next came flocks of decoys, dozens of plastic ducks floating in perfect calmness around each hut. Then I had a new morning alarm clock.
It’s a quick business. The birds swoop in, blasts of smoke pop out of the blinds, and arcs of flight turn into sputtering, crashing dives. When it’s over, heads pop up from the little grass fort and survey the field.
I watched one morning, amazed at how fast the hunters reduced a handful of swooping ducks into puffs of feathers.
“Better keep your head down, Frank,” I said.
I played Duck Hunt on the Nintendo once or twice. I wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting a flamingo.