Golf Course Duck Hunt
If you didn’t read last week’s blog about my Uncle Jug you should take the time to read it now before you read this one. It is good to understand a little about my favorite Uncle and his general personality before you go on with this story.
His passion was hunting and fishing and he was always happy to take us with him. He was a great teacher when it came to those two sports. He taught us the basics about wild life habits, tracking, proper use of equipment, safety, rules, and most importantly always back your truck into a place where you can pull forward to exit. Because even when following the rules, kind a sort a, you never know when a quick getaway could save your butt.
One fine morning in late fall he took his two sons and myself duck hunting along a creek bed in the Tennessee Mountains about an hour from our home in Chattanooga. We were 13 to 15 years old and thrilled to be spending the day in the wilderness wearing heavy camouflage clothing and carrying shotguns which we were allowed to fire at any time if we believed something was a viable target. For us this meant anything that moved, that seemed insignificant, anytime we got bored. I have to confess several big bugs and a few small birds lost their lives that day.
We were there to find, kill, and eat the elusive Wood Duck. One of the rules of hunting and fishing that Uncle Jug insisted we follow was if you kill it you eat it. If you can’t eat it you shouldn’t kill it. The loophole for the big bugs and small birds was killing them with a 12 gauge shotgun left nothing to eat or even find. We hunted the wily Wood Duck from dawn to dusk and never even made eye contact with the frugal fowl. So what we actually did that day was go hiking with weapons. When we got back to the Jeep about an hour before sunset Uncle Jug was already there cleaning a rabbit he happened to come across that day. After he cleaned it he washed his hands with rubbing alcohol and told us to always do the same after cleaning a rabbit so you don’t get something called rabbit fever. I had never heard of rabbit fever and I have never in my life to this day heard of anyone getting rabbit fever but the sincerity in which he gave us that advise made me a believer. To this day if I ever found myself wrist deep in a rabbit carcass you bet your sweet patootie I’m going straight for the alcohol afterwards. For the last 40 years that hasn’t been an issue but by God in Heaven I will go to my grave believing in the rare yet crippling malady called rabbit fever. Okay so I just Googled rabbit fever and sure enough it is real and one of the symptoms is swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin. Enough said, either I always have alcohol in my possession or just leave the rabbits alone. Uncle Jug looked at us after the rabbit fever warning and said he knew we were disappointed about the day of hunting with no success. He then said, “Boys I think I know one other place where we might have a chance to get a few ducks, maybe not Wood Ducks but at least ducks of some type.” I said, “But it’s getting very close to sunset and isn’t it against the law to hunt ducks after dark.” He simple said in a matter of a fact tone, “Where we’re goin’ it needs to be a little dark”. We didn’t know exactly what that meant but we knew our Uncle/Dad and we knew we were going on an adventure that would most likely necessitate the Jeep being backed in somewhere with the engine running.
We were now on a secret mission with a duck dinner objective. Uncle Jug merged onto I-75 headed back to the house but he exited one exit early and started driving towards the shopping mall. I mean “the” shopping mall the largest most popular shopping mall in the area. At this point we were baffled and wondering if he had changed his mind and was taking us to get a hot dog and a Coke. Then as he pulled into the mall parking lot at the far end in front of J.C. Penny’s he said, “You know the little par 3 golf course you boys like to play during the summer behind the mall?” All of us chimed in like trained monkeys, “Yep, Yea, Yes Sir, sure do”. “Well” he continues, “You know that pond back on #15”. “Yep, Yea, Uh Hu, sure do”. “Well boys I was out here walking the dogs a couple of weeks ago”, which we knew meant he was letting the dogs run while he was fishing in the golf course ponds, “and I noticed several wild Mallards sitting in with the tame white ducks on that pond. So here’s watcha do. I’ll pull up to the fence farthest from the mall and I’ll wait at the Jeep with the engine running. Ya’ll jump the fence, make sure your guns have the safety on, (Don’t want anyone to get hurt scaling a closed golf course fence behind the mall to open fire on ducks from the 15th fairway within 100 yards of I-75 at sunset) then move quickly to the pond. When you get there boys fire the first shot above the pond so as to scare the ducks up off the water and then wait until they are above dry land to shoot them. Also whatever you do don’t shoot the tame white ducks that is just not fair”. Well now that we had our briefing and understood the proper rules for shooting ducks on the private property of a local small business inside the city limits, near a mall, interstate and residential neighborhoods we were ready to go. I never knew there were specific rules in this situation but apparently my Uncle Jug knew them well. So here we go me and my two cousins moving like duck hunting ninjas, at least that’s how we felt, across the dry dead turf of East Gate Family Golf Center. My older cousin Uncle Jugs oldest son who was just a bit older than me and a straight A student at the best school in the area, looked over at me and said in a quiet stealthy tone, “You know we could get into a lot of trouble for this”. To which I replied, “No, your dad can get into a lot of trouble for this, we’re minors and we’re just doing what he told us to do. Hell he has a gun”.
We laughed ran to the edge of the pond and sure enough there were the prizes sitting on the water just like we had been told. We followed the rules of our mission to a tea each successfully taking one wild Mallard without harming one feather on the tame ducks. The flock that escaped, containing one large Snow Goose, made the mistake of flying towards the Jeep. Uncle Jug saw the opportunity, pulled out a 410 pump with a full choke and brought down a Mallard and the Snow Goose. You know there are hunters that spend thousands of dollars to go on exclusive hunting trips on private reserves with professional guides just to get the opportunity to maybe shoot a Snow Goose and Uncle Jug brings one down with a 410 pump in the parking lot of J.C. Penny’s. We were all so proud of that mission we didn’t eat the ducks. They were mounted and hung on his wall for years just to tell the story again and again and again. So far I have never met anyone who has the same story or even close.