Photo by Roger Phillips
I don’t how many ducks I’ve shot, but I can easily count how many banded ducks I’ve shot: One. That happened on Friday, Dec. 20 near Grand View. The hunting was pretty tough because the birds didn’t want to come into our decoys, which is no surprise late in the season. They’ve probably seen a lot of decoys, but they still seemed to like the island we were hunting, so I hid in the reeds on the tip of the island and waited. Eventually, a few mallards circled over head, and I raised my shotgun and picked out a drake and pulled the trigger. Whiff. Two shots later, the drake splashed down. Not my finest shooting, but it got the job done. Dusty fetched it, and I laid duck down in the reeds and waited for more. I later hiked back to the blind and my hunting buddy, Joe Moloney, looked at me and asked “Is that a band?” Somehow, I failed to notice the silver band around the mallard’s bright-orange leg.
Joe’s seen several of them this year while hunting the Snake River, and I was excited to get one. It’s a nice bonus, and although hunting was on the slow side that morning, that hunt will now forever be remembered because it produced my first banded duck.
At home, I got on the computer and registered the band number with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I learned the duck had been banded in Aug. 2011 near Walnut Grove, Calif. when it was too young to fly. It was kind of bittersweet learning that. The bird was less than three years old, which is probably close to the average lifespan for a mallard. Why did it and I intersect at that exact moment, and how many other hunters and predators had it eluded? I shot another mallard earlier in the day that looked identical to this one, and both looked identical to many others I’ve shot. Those were all anonymous birds, but this greenhead had two brief moments in its life where it intersected with people who trapped and banded it, and then the guy who shot it, me. I had a snapshot glimpse into its history, and part of me wishes I had missed so it could live on. But that’s kind of naive. Who knows if it would have lasted the rest of the hunting season, more met its demise in some other way? No way of knowing.
Now I have a band that I will keep as a memento of the hunt, and that mallard, like many others before it, will make a fine meal. Hard to say it’s a happy ending considering it’s less so for the duck, but that’s hunting. Most hunters experience a twinge of sadness after the satisfaction of a successful shot. Many people don’t understand that emotional push and pull, but trust me, it’s there. A random silver band on an orange leg reminded me of that.