A month prior to our group hunt this September, I seriously entertained the idea of cancelling it. There was no end to the drought in sight and half of the duck ponds we’d have to hunt were as dry as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Had it not been for two special hunters coming from out-of-state, I might’ve. Their flights plans had already been booked.
One guy coming from North Dakota, Carey McWilliams, is a blind hunter who would be going on his first wingshooting hunt for ducks & doves. And the other hunter, Dawn Ziegler, a woman from Wisconsin who writes the Outdoor Rec section for my magazine, would also be trying her hand at shotgunning for the first time afield.
For years, I’ve thought about how you might bird hunt without the use of sight, been wanting to take on that challenge for a long time. Well, Carey would give me that chance. He was going to make it easy for me though. He’d hunted pheasant one time prior and shot well since they are noisy, straight-line fliers, and he could follow them by sound. Carey is also the only blind person in the world to pass the requirements for a concealed weapons permit so he’s had a lot of experience with guns and shooting. What he didn’t have, however, was much knowledge about hunting. I felt like we’d be able to work it out when he showed up though.
Dawn and Carey both arrived mid-week so we’d have time to practice shooting before the hunts began. Dawn was going to be using a zero-gravity rig for the first time and that would take some getting used to, and for Carey, I had a guide sit behind him to practice helping him aim and swing on moving targets. We spent all Thursday afternoon getting both of them ready.
Again this year, my friend Jen Armstrong came to photograph the hunt for us. These are her shots and I think she does some incredible work (I took the very professional-looking one of her). Please go by her blog at Jen Armstrong Photography and let her know what you thought of her pics. This is the story of our special event through her eyes.
September 24th, sometime before sunrise… I hadn’t realized this before, but there are oodles of things to be sensed on a teal hunt: guys sloshing around the pond setting out decoys, the unloading of gear and last minutes ideas on where to best set up, the feel of ground fog against your face as the morning breeze picks it up, frogs croaking and crickets chirping their last tones before daylight hits, the aroma of pond life mixed with the dusty pasture surrounding it, loading shells into the guns, squeaky teal calls, teal buzzing by in the dark, excited whispers whenever they set there wings to come in, shots fired, ducks falling back to the water (sometimes), a dog tearing through the water to retrieve a duck, coming back, shaking off and panting hard after a long run, even the low hum of mosquitoes is part of the package.
My friend Reid guided Carey on this morning. He sat behind him and helped him aim each time that we had ducks coming in. It was the first documented case of a blind hunter duck wingshooting that I have ever heard about. I told Carey going in that it wouldn’t be as easy as shooting pheasant, and I was right, but he jumped right in there and did the best he could, undaunted. The true sign of a hunter, he wasn’t here to kill ducks, he was here to experience the hunt.
It didn’t take him long to break the ice. On one of the first small flocks to come in, Carey folded one right out over the middle of the decoys. Needless to say, he was pretty tickled. My dog Tille brought it back and Reid took it over to Carey so he could “see” his first ever duck, a green-winged teal.
He said he loved having my dog out there and listening to her work during the hunt. I told him that she had to come because she was a lot better ‘duck getter’ than my dad. Carey also loved to shoot. I also told him that was the only way to get better. “Keep shooting.”
Later that morning, three blue-wings came in and banked high and away on Carey’s side, too far for me to venture a shot. But not Carey, he shot and made a legit 45 yard shot on a flaring duck. I’d love to give Reid some credit, but I’ve seen him shoot. He’s not that good a shot.
My dad was Dawn’s guide. This is her learning how to use the zero-gravity rig which is designed for higher quads who can’t swing the weight of a shotgun. It works, but it takes some getting used to. She also has what we call a U-cuff attached to the fore-end, a rudimentary trigger-pulling device, and a adaptive brace on her left hand to swing the gun with.
She also killed her first duck in the air almost right away. The morning was made before we saw the sun. After Dawn and Carey both had ducks, everything else was gravy.
We didn’t have that many flocks come in, but I’m quite certain that both of my new duck hunters could’ve filled their limit had there been more birds.
The following morning, we moved to a flooded ricefield nearby where there were more ducks working. Both Dawn and Carey shot more teal on the wing, a testament to their determination and love of the outdoors. How many of us would fly somewhere by ourselves, blind, to a place where we didn’t know anybody in order to try something that has never been done? As I write this blog, both Dawn and Carey are on separate deer hunts somewhere in the Midwest. I hope to see them both back down here next year.
I know a chocolate dog that will be ready.