Kat Ainsworth has joined TTAG as our new hunting editor. This is the first column in her new series, Shot Placement.
The inky weight of night was still upon us as we climbed into the pit. Me, with my ever-present mug of coffee – this time purloined from the corner of the lodge’s kitchen – editor Dan Zimmerman without coffee but with a far brighter smile than I managed at such an early hour, and contributor Ben Cole with his ever-present optimism. If this made me the Dark Side of the duck pit that morning, so be it (come to the Dark Side – we don’t have cookies, but we do have black coffee and biting sarcasm).
We’d already experienced some great moments earlier in the hunt including Ben’s first Green-winged Teal drake, my Wood duck drake – which I selfie’d with, because what hunter doesn’t drool over their colors – and the discovery of Dan’s stellar photography skills. A discovery which lead to his being bombarded with picture requests. In hindsight, perhaps not a great moment for Dan so much as a great one for those of us who became the recipients of his skill.
That morning we had new goals: Ben wanted a Pintail drake and I’d promised him one in a rare burst of optimism. Dan, I suspect, just wanted to survive being trapped in the blind with our snark and babble. As for yours truly, I wanted to hunt. Period. End of story.
The author’s Wood duck drake selfie.
The morning progressed with the kind of fluidity we hope to write about but rarely experience. Ben did, indeed, shoot a Pintail drake; it was the first bird of the morning, and he dropped it like a stone. I shot a Pintail as well which resulted in our doing an enthusiastic but somewhat poorly executed Pintail Dance, which may or may not be on Instagram. But my personal favorite wasn’t the Pintails, or the Wood duck, or my ever-present Elf On the Shelf (yes, really). It was a Plain Jane Mallard hen.
She flew overhead early in the morning. Ben had already bagged his Pintail and I’d chugged most of my coffee, to my regret. By the time she winged her way overhead the three of us had been waiting through what we believed were hours of duck deprivation, and all of us immediately jumped to attention. What followed was, quite frankly, one of the most awesome moments of my waterfowl-hunting life.
The hen slowly beat her wings our way, oblivious to her coming fate. A trio of Remington Versa Max 12-gauge shotguns were shouldered as we anticipated the lone bird’s arrival into shooting range, and then she was there. Dan, Ben, and I stood as one, shotguns raised and swinging in perfect sync. The thunder of Remington Hypersonic Steel 3” shotshells shattered the silence of the dawn with significantly more commotion than usual; we’d fired our 12-gauges in triplicate, three loads unleashing on the unsuspecting Mallard hen all at once. She didn’t just spiral into the water, she plummeted as though the sky had transformed into a leaden weight.
It was a moment rarely experienced in hunting, one I wanted to memorialize with a duck mount. Of course, all our steel shot hit home, meaning there wasn’t anything left to mount. Even so, it was an epic moment, one worth locking down into written memory. That’s what hunting is about, after all. The adrenaline, well-placed shots taken, the end-result meat in the freezer, those all rock. But it’s really about the camaraderie, isn’t it?
Managing Editor Dan Zimmerman and Hunting Editor Kat Ainsworth
with their hunt mascot, the Elf on the (Duck Pit) Shelf.
My most memorable hunts thus far include a number of noteworthy moments and a wide variety of game. But whether I’m working to drop a feral hog at 1000 yards or a Whitetail doe at 42 with a 1911, what makes them truly awesome – in my opinion – isn’t the shots I take, it’s who I share it with.
Hunting alone is nice – the peace, the calm before the shot – but hunting with others is something extra. When I took that long shot on a hog I had Scott Bell with me. When I dropped the doe with my favorite 1911 I was with Tyler Pounds. The post-shot celebrations are far more rewarding and etched more deeply into my flaky memory when shared with friends.
We didn’t get our limit that day duck hunting as a trio. The ducks just weren’t flying. We consistently nailed everything that soared overhead, but there weren’t enough. But Ben got his Pintail – and did his Pintail Dance. I drank every drop of coffee possible. And we got our Mallard hen. I have forged deeper friendships hunting the woods and flooded timber than have ever been made on social media or in coffee shops.
The idea that bonds are strengthened through the use of firearms is one that’s violently shunned by the anti-gunners. It’s their loss, really. More ammo and hunting land for us, right? See you in the deer, hog, and turkey woods. I’ll be the one with a likely overly large-bore gun in one hand and a coffee mug clutched in the other.