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Swan Lake…Fresno Style…

Story ID:8611
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Dillon Montana USA
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Swan Lake…Fresno Style…
By Chuck Dishno
January 2013

In 1955 I was living in Fresno, California, going to college and working at a Chevron gas station. The station owner, Ed was an avid duck hunter had always wanted his own duck club. He and a few friends, decided to pursue their dream and included me since I had been a duck hunter most of my life in Oregon. I didn’t have much money to invest in the project but was a willing and hard worker.

Through some connections he had with a few west side ranchers he talked one into letting them put in a well and pump water into a large depression in the ground. The following spring they had a well driller sink a well. It was at a time before the large cotton ranchers started sinking deep wells for their irrigation and the ground water was only about 10 feet down. As soon as we had the casing in they purchased a large one-cylinder engine and a pump. The well and pump worked excellent and produced many gallons of water per minute.

The pond, when full would be about 6 acres, 3 feet deep and have two islands in it. The next thing was to make duck blinds. One of the guys procured 10 100-gallon barrels, which we painted with a thick coating of battleship gray paint. We then dug holes to sink the barrels so just 4 inches were above ground. After they were in place we made swing seats that hung over the inside then made a large wire loop to cover the top of the barrel that could be swung out of the way in order to stand up and shoot. The loops were covered loosely with burlap. In all they made perfect blinds and combined with a can of Sterno a.k.a., Canned Heat, in the bottom were warm and cozy.

In early September, we took turns watching the pump fill the pond. Ed had supplied a 55 gallon drum of gasoline, mounted on a stand and we only had to go out a couple of times a week to check on the progress and refill the tank.

By early November the pond was full and just in time too since duck hunting season was about to start. We had made rules that were to be strictly enforced, such as no drinking, no friends without the permission of the other club members, no peeing near anyone else’s blind, and only hunting on Saturday. Sunday, and Wednesday. All birds had to be shot on the wing and if a flock landed we would have to wait for them to rise before shooting.

The pond proved to be a great place and with a few decoy’s scattered around; we were able to call in quite a few high-flying flocks of ducks and an occasional goose. To a duck it must have looked like paradise and a nice place to land for a bite of moss or grain. Little did they know that we would be doing the biting.

My friend Whitey and I liked to go out on Wednesdays because most of the big duck clubs were silent and we were more apt to get the ducks down. One Wednesday afternoon, we were sitting side beside in a double blind and dozing off in the warm sun, when I heard a rustle of wings just overhead. When I looked up, two huge Trumpeter Swans had landed about 10 feet in front of the blinds. They often flew over on their migratory trips across country. Whitey watched as they bobbed and preened their feathers just a few feet in front of us. After a few minutes, they both raised their wings in unison and tucked their heads away for a nap. We were as quiet as possible as not to disturb them and just marveled at their splendid white beauty. Even though they were asleep they seemed to know exactly where the other one was. We could see their feet below the surface making small corrective paddle moves that kept them within a few feet of each other. After about 15 minutes one of them woke up, I always said it must have been the female, brought her head out from under the wing, blinked a few times then swam over to the lazy male and sharply rapped him on the back until he too brought his head out. They then stropped their necks together a few times, preened their feathers and took off for parts unknown but to them without making a sound.

This had to be one of the few times I didn’t bring a camera with me but it will remain in my memory forever which is better than any camera.