I started out as a child on the family farm in Virden, New Mexico. We had a couple of ducks and a milk cow. As a toddler, I enjoyed chasing the ducks. They would waddle; I would toddle. My dad came up with a groaner of a joke; “What do you have when you have two ducks and a cow? Quackers and milk.” Hearing that joke almost daily kind of soured me on ducks.
As a result I have had a lifetime love/hate relationship with ducks. Even today I have a passel of free-loading mallards who have squatted on my pond and can’t wait for the twice-daily handout intended for my fish. This is getting expensive. Muttski, my killer Yorkie, and I shoo them away often, but the allure of the groceries draws them as soon as our back is turned. The fish have learned to gulp in haste or the ducks will get it all. Fish food is $45 for a 40 pound bag so I’ve resorted to feeding dog food which is only $18 for a 50 pound bag. They seem to do fine on it, but the duck quack has a definite bark to it, sounding like “qu-ark” and “qu-arf”. The fish wag their tails much more than normal.
In my teen years, my Uncle Dale got permission from a local park in the Los Angeles area to remove as many as a hundred ducks to add to his ranch pond in Newhall. These were domestic ducks, fugitives from Easter gifts—Easter ducklings dumped in the park after their cuteness had waned. They had proliferated exponentially. I was visiting at the time and was invited to go along on the Great Duck Roundup of 1965. We had a net about four feet high and 100-feet long which we held in front of us to herd the ducks into a catch-pen. Then we had to catch the ducks one by one and put them in gunny sacks for the trip home. It was fun and messy. A scared duck doesn’t have much control over his bowels.
As teenagers, my brothers and I enjoyed hunting ducks on the canals east of Mesa, Arizona. We had a dog but Queenie was smart enough to refuse to retrieve ducks. So when we would shoot a quacker we would throw my little brother, Doug, into the canal and not let him out without retrieving the duck. To this day we sometimes call him “Dog” instead of Doug.
I once went duck hunting with Old Tom, my mentor. We sneaked up over the embankment of a pond and found it loaded with ducks. As they rose in a mass of wings and water spray I fired once, then twice, then was swinging on a brace of mallards when Tom yelled “Stop! Don’t shoot!” I reluctantly lowered my Remington 1100 semi-automatic 12 gauge and saw the problem. The surface of the pond was littered with flopping ducks. Our limit was six each. Fortunately there were only eleven ducks down from our combined four shots. I told Tom that I would probably have killed only one of the two I was aiming at, and if he could count flopping ducks faster we might have our limit now instead of being one short. I told him the way he had been bragging about his shooting, he probably killed eight of the ducks himself and he should turn himself in for being two over his limit. I claimed the mallards, saying the puny teals were his. He countered by quickly stuffing the mallards in his game bag. He said he should turn me in for criminal intent because the way I had been bragging about my shooting he figures I would have killed both of those mallards, so I deserved the ticket. A good hunting friend is hard to find and harder to keep.
Once some ducks tried to kill me. My Arabian horse, Shadow—so named as in scared-of-his-own—and I were riding up a trail in White Creek just at the crack of dawn. We crossed a tiny creek, then the trail started angling up the side of a hill, with pine trees to our left. The pine trees passed behind us as the trail came into the open. Suddenly two ducks exploded from a pond a mere 30 yards to the side. Shadow immediately exploded 30 yards up the impossibly steep hill in the opposite direction. I was grabbing leather, relieved that I was still on top of the horse instead of under him. “Those were ducks!” I cussed at Shadow. He retorted, “But they were grizzly ducks!” Ever since then we’ve called that pond Grizzly Duck Pond.
I am reminded of my duck escapades every time I pass Birdie-Butt Pond on Flat Creek, just north of the Jackson Hole Visitor Center. The above-water end of an upside down duck is as cute as they get.
Remember, “Life is always better when viewed from between the ears of a horse.”
Maury Jones, “Jonesy of Jackson Hole”
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