A fire crackled in the fireplace, and the Christmas tree was trimmed and lit,
festive holiday cookies adorned the coffee table, and a big grin and twinkling
eyes described my grandfather that Friday evening. It was the evening when
school was dismissed for the Holidays, and Christmas was yet a few days
distant. My grandfather however had a mischievous smile, and those
twinkling eyes that gave him away whenever he was up to something.
Dinner was over, and I knew something was up, because whenever my grandfather
was either nervous or excited, he unconsciously jingled the loose change and
keys in his pockets. His pockets jingled that evening like a
Salvation Army bell! Once we were all assembled, my dad looked to my
grandfather, and gave an almost imperceptible nod, and my mom, from the far back
of our beautiful Silver-tip fir Christmas tree, from underneath a pile of other
gifts brought out a beautifully wrapped box, about three feet long, ten inches
wide and four inches deep, and placed it into my grandfather's hands. In
turn, he looked at me, then with a huge smile, told me the package was mine, and
that it needed to be opened right away.
I didn't quarrel about it not being Christmas! My twelve year old
curiosity didn't consider such things! He explained that he was giving me
the gift early, and we would need it the next day, and that it was indeed
alright with my parents to open it early. Spending no time what-so-ever
admiring the wrapping, the shiny tinsel, bows and paper were shredded away to
reveal a very distinct green box with yellow lettering that said Remington!
I had hoped, but not really dreamed, yet apprehensive at opening the box, just
in case it wasn't what I thought. Then, cutting the tape holding the box
shut, I opened the lid, and removed a Styrofoam spacer, revealing the most
beautiful fiddle-back walnut but-stock that could be imagined! Over that
beautiful piece of walnut was the characteristic Remington gloss finish,
matching that of the forend of my new Remington 1100 twelve gauge semi-automatic
I didn't know what to say! Up until then, I had used a borrowed .410
Stevens single shot, and a Remington 20 gauge that belonged to my uncle.
My own shotgun, and such a piece of equipment! That Remington high-luster
finish on a gorgeous piece of wood, with what I remember to be an outstanding
blue job, complete with ventilated rib! What more could a twelve year old
kid, living fifteen minutes drive from Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge, perhaps
the premier waterfowling Mecca on the Pacific Flyway, possibly want for
Christmas? What a gift!
Shotgun Shells! That's what, and they were next, four boxes of Remington
2 3/4" Express Magnums, two boxes of 1 1/2 oz of No. 5's, a box of 1 1/2 oz
No. 4's and finally a box of 1 1/2 oz of No. 2 shot! All of them were
individually wrapped in festive paper and bows, but I honestly don't remember
even the color of the paper! I was ready! That little 20 gauge
earlier in the season had proven to be quite a duck slayer in my hands, and I
could just envision the piles of birds in the blind with my new semi-auto!
The plan for the next morning was of course to go duck hunting! My
grandfather had been hunting about every morning all week, scouting the birds,
and getting the lowdown on where they were, feeding patterns, and blind
locations. Four AM would come awfully early, so we all said our goodbyes
and my grandfather would pick up my dad and I then. I could hardly
sleep! I could just envision looking over that new, matt, ventilated rib
at a greenhead or bull sprig!
After a fitful, restless sleep, I heard my dad's alarm clock, and knew it was
time to get ready to go! I gathered up my old Filson canvas shell vest
that was once my grandfathers, passed down to me, and emptied all the 20 gauge
shells and empties from its loops and pockets, then excitedly, and very
methodically stuffed bright, shiny green 12 gauge shells into the cartridge
loops, and pockets, making mental note of where my 5's were and my 4's as well
as the ten shells loaded with number two shot in case we got into some
geese. I put on long johns, then a pair of sweat-pants with my hunting
pants on over those, on my upper torso a set of then new poly propylene thermals
with a sweatshirt, topped by a thick cotton flannel shirt. I was ready for
cold weather, as it was in the lower teens that morning, and lightly snowing,
even at that dark hour. I readied my wool shooting gloves, my stocking cap
and hunting cap to go over it, as well as my old canvas hunting coat that used
to be my uncle's when he was my age. Finally, I pulled on my hip boots
over three pairs of warm socks.
A quick breakfast of I don't know what, a thermos of both coffee and hot
chocolate, fixed a rudimentary lunch, and a fueling of our Johnny Hand warmers,
and we were pretty well prepared for my grandfather to come and pick us
up. Last things to stuff into coat pockets were my mallard call and sprig
whistle along with my ancient, hand-me-down duck strap. I couldn't
From our living room chair, I could see the ever increasing snowflakes in the
headlights of my grandfather's pickup truck as he pulled up in front of the
house. We quietly turned off the lights of the house, and gathered our
gear, then hurried through the snow to stow our gear in the back of the
truck. Granddad's pickup canopy was stuffed with decoy bags, gunny-sack
blinds and other miscellaneous hunting paraphernalia. The cab was warm, to
the point of being uncomfortable in all my cold-weather clothes, but the talk
was all about ducks, and my excitement grew. My new Remington 1100
was carefully stowed in the middle berth of the rear window three gun rack, and
my dad's last minute addition of a slip-on rubber recoil pad made sense, even
though it did detract from the cosmetics of my beautiful new shotgun.
Having hunted hard all week, my grandfather had located a virtual hunting
bonanza. On Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge, the unit management plans call
for flooding different units of the refuge at given times, to provide both open
water for the migrating birds, as well as to enhance feeding opportunities for
the ducks. It seems that earlier in the week they began flooding a unit we
always called the Mitchell Lease, as did most locals, but the refuge management
designated this area as the Sheepy West Unit. All summer this field unit
had remained uncultivated, allowing the natural grasses, volunteer milo, wild
rye and wild oats to grow of their own accord. Now, in the later part of
December, the unit was being flooded.
We came in the back way to the refuge, past Perry Langer's place and the
McKay Ranch, into the west side of the refuge, directly to the Mitchell
Lease. When we arrived, it was very black and dark, and the snow had
increased in intensity. We cracked the windows a bit to keep the
windows from fogging up, and we could hear a roar of birds as they talked back
and forth, and as their wing-beats filled the air, milling to and fro in their
feeding. Occasionally you could make out the distinct hi-ball mallard
call, the unmistakable call of innumerable swans and the distinct whistles of
hundreds of pintails as they fed.
With only fifteen minutes until shooting hours, we exited the warmth of the
pickup cab, and donned our hunting garb, and headed single file, following my
grandfather. We had the place to ourselves! Not another
vehicle came to the parking area, and we saw no oncoming headlights as we made
for our blinds. This was going to be perfect! A short distance from
the pickup we began sloshing through ankle-deep water, then a ways beyond the
beginning of the water, there was ice, about half an inch thick on top of the
knee deep water.
Breaking through the ice in the dark, it make queer quaking noises, like ther
report of distant .22 rimfires echoing in canyon, as it fractured with cracks
radiating for many yards through the ice as we trudged on in the blackness of
the morning. Up until now, we had heard only the normal feeding noises
that are typical whenever you have many hundreds of waterfowl all feeding in one
concentrated place, but now, there was a rushing roar, a din that drowns out
human voices, the roar of thousands of ducks and geese taking to the air in
unison! I'll never forget feeling the air, like wind, as thousands of
waterfowl were in the black sky, just a few feet over my head. The air
stirred by their wings was cold on my face, and it roared in my ears, and water
falling off the birds dropped like rain down upon us!
In the beams of our flashlights it was apparent that not only did we have the
moderate snow, but a very dense fog that morning near the open water as
well. Between the heavy cloud cover, and the dense ground fog, daylight
came later than normal, and with the first gray light also legal shooting
hours. My heart was pounding, as we were still some distance from where my
grandfather wanted to be this morning, and I could hear birds, thousands of
birds, but not see any due to the fog.
Finally, after another ten minutes of laborious ice breaking and mud
tromping, we arrived where we wanted to be, on the eastern side of the now
flooded portion of the field, between it, and the remainder of the refuge where
the birds would come and go. We should have been directly in their flight
path. As the grayness became full morning daylight, we spaced out about
forty yards apart, me being just able to see my grandfather on one side and my
dad on the other through the fog. Birds flew above the ground fog, you
could hear them, but not see them. The ones you did finally see were less
than forty yards away, so in good shotgun range. My grandfather busted a
double on greenheads, then a single bull sprig as they appeared out of the
My trigger finger was itching! I wanted so badly to put that wonderful
new shotgun to work, then I finally saw my first bird of the morning, a gadwall,
winging right off the deck about thirty yards out. As I swung on the bird,
my bead caught up with him, then just as I passed the end of his bill with the
bead, he collapsed in a cartwheel on the ice as I heard my dads 870 bark!
Then, from the west, right out of the fog came a flight of snow geese, thirty
feet off the deck, flying right towards me. We weren't using blinds
in the fog, but rather just standing still, waiting for the birds to appear out
of the fuzzy whiteness of the morning.
Those geese were only about twenty yards out when I pulled down on the second
bird back in the flock. As the new shotgun recoiled against my shoulder, I
saw my bird crumple! I pulled down on a second snow goose, and it too
crumpled to my shot. Now, the birds were directly overhead, flaring,
and scattering when I pulled down on yet a third bird... then the lights went
I picked myself up, out of the knee deep ice-water, broken ice sliding down
inside my hip boots along with the frigid water, ice and cold black water
filling my coat and shirt. My grandfather was laughing and slapping his
knee, and I was fighting for air! I couldn't catch my breath in the icy
air, and I was a little light-headed and becoming numb from the cold.
Worst of all, I couldn't find my shotgun... then, stomping around in the black
muddy ice-water trying to keep my balance, I stepped on it! My nice new
1100 was at the bottom of the murky mess!
I retrieved my shotgun as my grandfather retrieved my two snow geese.
It seems he was watching when I cut loose on the flock, and although the first
bird went right down, the second bird, when I shot him, fell on a direct course
with the center of my chest! As I unwittingly pulled down on a third goose
that had flared to my left, the second goose gave me a KO punch!
My little impromptu mud bath and the baptism of my shotgun preempted any more
hunting that morning. Mid teen temperatures and total immersion in
ice water sent us scurrying for the warmth and comfort of the pickup cab.
The trip home, while only about fifteen or twenty minutes seemed like and
eternity as I was ribbed all the way home about my treatment of a new shotgun!
Once I had taken a shower, cleaned up and had some warm hot chocolate on
board, my shotgun too got a bath of its own... in gun solvent! I received
a crash course in the anatomy of a Remington 1100, and the teardown and assembly
procedures. Neither the gun nor I were any the worse for wear from our
little excursion, and I never worried after that about getting my shotgun
dirty! I had already initiated my new Remington 1100!