Faith Lessons from a Duck Hunter

ducks

I started duck hunting when I was about 14 years old. I hunted ducks and geese every spare moment I had, and some moments that I didn’t have, until to everyone’s surprise I finished high school and went to college.

Higher education, a couple of careers and a bout of city living put an end to most of my teenage fun. And then, one summer, just as we were leaving for summer vacation, my wife Linda unintentionally initiated events that would begin my second childhood. She bought me a hunting magazine for holiday reading. It stirred something deep within me. I read and reread each article throughout the holidays, especially those about hunting ducks and geese. Autumn came and I began to stare into space with glassy eyes.

The gospel according to hunting magazine had its full effect. I had something akin to a conversion experience. By December, I had talked Linda into buying the boys a “cute little chocolate lab pup” for a Christmas present. By the following summer I had bought the biggest magnum shotgun that our meagre preacher’s budget could afford.

And then autumn hit with all its magic. I was moved. I had a near religious experience. I had a vision: Me, Gunner the lab, my magnum shotgun, a pond and waterfowl in the air. There was only one thing left to do … only one thing I could do … hunt ducks! I hadn’t hunted waterfowl for 20 years. The thought that I had forgotten how, or had perhaps become a little rusty, never entered my head.

One early November morning found Linda, the boys, Gunner and I up at 3 a.m. It was going to be a family affair. Lunch and supper were packed in the cooler. All of the gear was stuffed into the truck. I was hoarse from shouting refrains of: “Hurry up, dang it all!” Finally, we escaped the city on our pilgrimage. Three hours later the truck was parked a half-kilometre from Davis Pond.

The pilgrimage had ended. The waterfowl hunt had begun.

I’m not sure why, but I have this incredible knack of purposefully gathering a crowd whenever I am about to make like a donkey’s backside. On this fine morning, I could have left Linda and the boys in the truck while I put the sneak on the pond. Nobody would have ever known what happened. Instead, I insisted that everyone join me in a gang sneak on the pond. I loaded my new magnum shotgun with heavy loads. I loaded Linda with the cooler. I loaded the boys each with a duffel bag full of duck decoys. Pulling my new camouflage cap down over my eyes, I initiated the sneak, my dutiful band of not so merry disciples trudging along behind me.

We made our way through the pine forest to the edge of the pond with me waving angry hand signals about every two seconds and staring daggers at my disciples for every blade of grass that rustled. I peered out from the forest to the pond. “Huh? Not one blasted crummy duck,” I muttered under my breath.

And then I heard it. At first I didn’t know what it was. Whatever it was, it was making a considerable racket, getting closer to us and coming down the pond. I knew I had heard the sound before but it was buried in my memory. I stepped out onto the steep, slimy mud bank and peered down the length of the pond to where the water turned a corner out of sight. My memory speed shifted into gear about the same time a gaggle of Canada geese honked and turned the corner into my view. I knew what that old familiar sound was now. I smiled a sly smile and told Gunner to sit and stay. I crouched motionless on the slippery mud bank.

They kept coming, honking their heads off. Like a true professional from one of the hunting magazines, I let them fly right up to me. As they flew past I let my hunter’s instinct take over. With confidence I stood up and threw the magnum shotgun to my shoulder. I pushed the safety off and touched off the trigger.

I’m not sure why it never occurred to me before, at least not in the way that it did right after I touched the trigger, but there is a healthy difference between a modern magnum shotgun filled with what must be nitro-glycerine and the mild, old antique shotguns of my youth. This difference is particularly noticeable when you don’t have the shotgun properly mounted to your shoulder when you touch it off. The difference is amplified several times more when you lean back and try to stand on one leg while shooting geese from a steep slimy mud bank. After the cataclysmic explosion, after the shotgun came back and punched me stiffly on the jaw, after the lights went out and the sky filled with marvellous coloured stars, after I came to laying flat on my back in the icy mud; I think the fact that I had the presence of mind to enthusiastically yell, “Did I get one?!” spoke highly of my personal character and the power and authenticity of my near religious reconversion to waterfowl hunting.

Linda didn’t answer right away. She couldn’t. She was doubled over in convulsive laughter behind a tree. Both boys were staring at me with eyes as big as plates. Davin, our oldest, was able to mutter, “Wow, Dad!” Gunner the lab looked at me with disgust and cocked his leg on a rosebush.

Finally Linda recovered enough to help me to my feet. “No, you didn’t get one, dear,” she gasped. “But I think you demonstrated a sound need for much more practice.”

This all happened some 34 years ago when I was a newly minted Presbyterian minister, but the lesson has never been forgotten. In life and in waterfowl hunting, a very enthusiastic religious-type conversion experience is never enough. It takes practice. It takes diligence. As to faith, the Apostle put it to Timothy to: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) It strikes me that too often today we Christians like to think that a vibrant faith just runs out of religious enthusiasm and experience like ice water off of a melting glacier. But it doesn’t. A vibrant Christian faith has to be developed, to be cultured and grown. It takes practice, discipline and diligence around studying the word of God, in the discipline of prayer, in worship and devotion, in fellowship and service. Life—and faith—take practice.

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About David Webber

Rev. David Webber, now retired, was the founding missionary of the Cariboo house church ministry in British Columbia. He has written four books.