Cordova Chronicles: A toast to duck hunters’ wives

Bring along those catalogs and raise a glass of Duckhorn

It’s been a strange year for duck hunting. The mystic Northern Birds never did show up, at least not out on the Copper River Delta.  Weather had to be a factor.  Who would have dreamt there would be 14 straight days in October without wind and rain, which is often key to waterfowling success.

My favorite pond near our cabin at Pete Dahl looked like glass for days on end, and despite the spinning and flashing of three battery-powered Super Wonderduck Paddle Wheel Combo mallards amidst 60 other decoys, on most days the hottest action was drinking coffee from a camo-hued thermos.

One day a pair of spoonbills displayed their ranking on the Duck IQ Hierarchy by dropping in.   I heard their splash and quacking, and managed to spill hot java on my lap and not get a shot off.

Actually, I had to put a pen and 3X5 card down first, as making notes for these articles as well as a follow-up book to Time and Tide has become a prime blind pastime in this Year of No Ducks.

I was pondering the zany lengths we waterfowlers will go to in pursuit of birds, and how for two months out of the year perfectly normal husbands must leave their wives thinking ducks are not the only things that need IQ tests,  albeit perhaps just glad their feather-minded hubbies are gone for awhile.

Alas, we may be out of sight at our duck shacks, but no longer out of mind.  Technology is a wonderful thing, and especially cell phones.  Calling each evening to check in with my wife, and also getting the Daily Duck Report from Randy Bruce and Julius Reynolds down at Eyak, are illustrations.

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Ah, how one thing leads to another.  No respectable duck cabin would be complete without a copy of Cabela’s and Mack’s Prairie Wings catalogs, and thanks to those cell towers in line-of-sight view on Heney Ridge, operators are just a buzz away.   When a trio of local mallards practically knocked over my newest model Paddle Duck on Opening Day, I knew I was on to something big.  So of course that evening I had to order another one.  Who would have ever thought a credit card would be tucked in the plastic waterproof holder beside my free lifetime Alaska Hunting license, which is one of the perks of senior citizenship.

That evening I called Mack’s.  Located in Arkansas, they have these wonderful sales gals with charming Southern accents, who also know both their customers and their merchandise.  “Why good evening, Mr. Shellhorn.  Can I help ya-all?”  We chatted it up a bit, and then I ordered another green-headed Paddle Duck.  They only cost $99.99.  “Are you sure ya-all don’t want a Super Twister Hen Mallard to go with that?”

A few days later when I checked in with my wife, she mentioned:  “Oh, I picked up a couple boxes at the Post Office.  Did you order something?”

Oops.

Of course, capping off this two month Wild Winged Quest is the fact that my wife is not exactly a big fan of duck. She will candidly tell you that the best duck recipe she ever found was the one that made that precious Ziplock bag of duck breasts taste the least like duck.   And I say precious for good reason.  If you added up all the expenses involved in bringing home the “ducks we need to get through the winter”, it probably averages about triple that of fresh king crab legs down at Ken Roemhildt’s Seafood Sales.

Next week we’ll be having family plus a few friends over for “ducks and gravy.”  I’ll also be cooking a pan full of Cornish Game Hens.

And raising a glass of Duckhorn  (honestly) 2015 Merlot to our Duck Hunter’s Wives.

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Dick Shellhorn
Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at [email protected].