Jenna Seigworth – Student contributor
(This piece was written after shadowing a duck hunting trip with Hunter Redfield, who also detailed the expedition in a story called “Opening Day“ and posted in his Natural Escape column.)
When I walked around the corner of my garage at 2:57 a.m., chest waders and book bag in tow, and saw Hunter smiling at me from the front seat of the truck, I knew it was gonna be a good morning.
Hunter and Jacob were taking me on my first duck hunt ever to Geneva Swamps on opening day. To say I was nervous was an understatement.
The drive to Geneva was quiet. There were hardly any cars on the road, except for an old Penske truck whose driver seemed to be falling asleep and allowing himself to drift haphazardly from lane to lane. That truck was the basis of our entertainment for the majority of the ride, but the whole time in the car, I kept thinking: What have I gotten myself into?
I began to develop a sleep deprivation headache. It was one of those aches that starts in the back of your skull and spreads throughout, but I rubbed my temples and pushed down the urge to fall back asleep.
When we arrived at Geneva, we made quick work of putting on all of our waders, unloading the canoe, and getting pushed off into the swamp. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be, but still I felt the chill of the morning. Hunter was quick to make small talk with another hunter who was pushing off at the same time. He assured us that the place the boys had spotted a week or so ago was a good one and that it was bound to be a good morning.
With Jacob, Hunter, and I, plus all the equipment, sat quite comfortably in the canoe, and with me holding the light, Hunter running the motor, and Jacob paddling and directing Hunter, the system worked pretty well. I was mostly concerned with not tipping the canoe and staying quiet.
We had to get out of the canoe eventually and drag it into the grass in order to jump a log. I felt pretty useless at this point, but the boys knew exactly what they were doing, and they seemed to count on my being useless, because before I knew it, we were back in the water and off again.
The process of exiting the canoe ensued again, and finally we found the spot we would be settling into for the morning.
The boys got back in the canoe and set out the decoys, leaving me on the shore, surrounded by the darkness. I fumbled with the camera for a little bit, familiarizing myself with the buttons in the darkness. It was just a little after four o’clock in the morning, and I could hardly make out which of the two figures in front of me was Hunter and which was Jacob.
It was then that I realized that there was nothing else to do until 6:38 a.m., what Hunter called “shooting light.” So for the better part of two hours, the three of us talked, drank coffee, and laughed. Those two hours flew by, and soon it was time for the guys to ready their guns for the first shot.
When 6:40 rolled around and no one had shot, Hunter realized that shooting light wasn’t actually until 6:54, so we went on laughing.
When the gunshots began, it was loud. I braced myself for when Hunter or Jacob took their first shots, and questioned whether or not I’d have permanent hearing damage by the time this trip was done.
I wondered when the boys took their first shots, if I should watch them or the ducks they were aiming for. I never actually decided in my head, but when the ducks came, I kept my eyes on Jacob and Hunter.
It was Hunter’s voice that lead both Jacob and I’s eyes to the birds. I was entranced, though, about the way the boys tracked the birds. Both of their guns pressed into their shoulders in sync, eyes and barrels to the sky. The shots were back to back, deafening, and left a ringing in my ears. They both missed.
Not many birds flew our way, but we could hear gunshots coming from every direction. It was evident to me that the boys were frustrated that the spot they had scoped out wasn’t producing the results they wanted. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was a possibility that we wouldn’t shoot any ducks. Hunter continued to call in birds without success.
When the cold set in, I froze. It was the kind of cold that roots itself deep in your bones and spreads throughout your entire body, reaching its climax in your fingertips, causing them to go numb. It burned for a little bit. Our hands cramped up, making it nearly impossible for me to work the camera and the boys to pump their shotguns successfully. The rain poured down almost nonstop for an hour, and the chill shivering down my spine ensued.
After they boys shot for the third time with no prevail, Hunter’s gun jammed. The shotgun shell had not and would not eject from his barrel, and he struggled for a long time to remove it. He didn’t have a knife with him, which surprised me, so instead he searched for a stick. Being in a swamp, there were hardly any sticks. Eventually, he gave up and reasoned that he was just done shooting for the day. It was all up to Jacob.
Hunter stood next to me for awhile, teasing me about my cold hands as we watched Jacob attempt to cover the 360 degree circle of possible duck locations. It was nearing 10 o’clock, and the reality seemed to set in that we would not be bringing any ducks home.
Jacob wanted breakfast and said that if he hadn’t shot anything by 10 that we would leave. Hunter argued that 10 o’clock was when everyone else would be leaving too, that the ducks would start moving again, and he would be more likely to shoot one then.
Hunter assured me we most likely wouldn’t be leaving until 11. He was almost right. Just as we began to pack up our things, the ducks moved. Jacob took a couple more shots, but eventually settled on just heading in.
With some struggle, we headed back into the canoe, picked up the decoys, and got over the first of two logs. At our second log, Jacob wanted to try to shoot more ducks, so Hunter and I sat on the log and watched.
After about ten minutes, Jacob was over it and we heaved the canoe over the log.
It was at this point I believed that my adventure was over for the day. However, as I was trying to crawl back into the canoe, I fell. Luckily, I landed on the grass that laid on top of the four feet deep water. I was pretty much laying on my back, inches from going head first into the murky water of Geneva Swamp, and I was not happy.
I’m pretty sure it took everything in his body for Hunter not to laugh at me right then and there. If I moved at all, I was a goner, right into the water. He told me not to move with an idiotic smile on his face and offered me his hand, which I gladly took. I got into the canoe, mostly embarrassed, but also laughing internally.
Naturally, when we reached dry land, I was eager to stay away from the water. The boys loaded the canoe back up, we took off our waders, talked to a couple more successful hunters, and climbed into the truck.
We decided to stop at a restaurant for breakfast, and even with their coffee, the boys seemed exhausted. I could feel it, too. The adrenaline of the day was wearing off, and nothing sounded better than a good nap. We waited for what seemed like years for our food, and then another decade for our check.
When we finally got out of the restaurant, I was sure that Jacob was already sleep walking. It took him about five minutes to fall asleep in the car. I decided to stay awake, and in the silence, I began to reflect on the morning.
It was peaceful. That’s what I remember the most. The week leading up to this trip was hectic and crazy, but that morning was bliss. It was calm and quiet. The world was at rest that early in the morning, and even as gunshots rang out, I found my mind at ease. Talking to Hunter and Jacob was easy. Joking with them was even easier. It’s moments like that, that I wish I could’ve had every year, not just my senior year.
Jenna Seigworth is a student at Cranberry High School and a member of Cranberry Chronicles, the school’s journalism/publications class.