This post is a guest submission from my friend Brett Prettyman. Some of you may know Brett from his outdoor writing with the Salt Lake Tribune. We recently had the good fortune to hunt together again.Thanks for the post Brett!
As we climbed into the canoe at 6 a.m., I mentioned the last time I had been in one was on the Boundary Waters in Pete’s home state of Minnesota. I didn’t say it, but I quietly reflected on that trip and wondered how such an experience in a canoe could ever be topped. Little did I know it would be equaled in the next hour.
Pete talked about a previous trip on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and how fun it was to listen to his young niece constantly make sure her father and uncle knew were they were going without any light a week earlier. I thought the same thing, but this was not my first trip with Pete. I had learned to trust his outdoor skills long ago. We met more than 20 years ago in a college class at the University of Utah. He spent the next two summers teaching me how to fly fish on the Green River where he guided anglers. In more recent years he has been teaching me the joys of the marsh.
We dipped the paddles in a waking-up-kind of rhythm for a few minutes and, after one false partial turn, pointed the canoe in a southerly direction and started searching for a good spot to set the decoys. I thought my coffee-depraved mind was playing tricks on me, but I had to ask. “I swear the moon is getting brighter,” I said, noticing the cool morning air was making my breath visible. Pete turned his head to the less-than-quarter moon and said it was because it was catching more of the sun as dawn approached. It was good thing he was doing the steering because I couldn’t take my eyes off the glowing slice of moon in the eastern sky.
After scoping out a couple of potential spots we settled for the tallest island of cover and started setting the decoys. I had only really ever watched Pete do it on our other trips. This time he suggested where I should throw them and how many in each spot. I headed off to do as I was told, but took a minute to watch as he grabbed his bag of SoftShell Decoys and headed to another spot. Pete had been sharing his idea of the SoftShell Decoys with me for a couple of years. He even borrowed my camera at one point to try and get some good photos during the production phase. As he pulled the lightweight decoys out and started to push them into the marsh I realized I was watching a man who had completed a vision.
It was a moment I’ll never forget. A good lesson in the power of making a dream become a reality. We wedged the canoe into the phragmites, called Sugar into the craft and settled in just in time for those magic moments when night relinquishes its hold and day creeps onto the scene. It really was a surreal moment. I felt like I was looking at one of those photos from space with that eerie glow of the sun separated by a thin moving line preparing to extinguish the stars.
I snapped a photo and had just put the iPhone away when the ducks started to fly. My shoulder hurt after the third shot and I didn’t drop a bird until a dozen or so shells flew out of the shotgun. Pete reached his limit quickly even after giving most of the best shots to me. I lamented on my poor shooting, but he reminded me it had been a while since I’d pulled the trigger.
The morning heated up, but the birds kept coming until the mosquitoes started to buzz. It was time to head home. The scenery had been stupendous, the shooting subpar (at least on my behalf) and the company stellar.
The decision was made when a pair of floating decoys had built up enough weeds and caught enough current to start to float away. I chased them down while Pete fetched up his decoys. I wondered if he would have made me carry the backpack full of heavy decoys while he carried his bag of 50 SoftShell Decoys that weighed lass than a quarter of the bag I had collected. I figured he would have, but only one way.