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Tales From A One-Eyed Duck Hunter

Story ID:9784
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Bly Oregon USA
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Tales From A One-Eyed Duck Hunter
By Chuck Dishno

When our house burned to the ground, in the summer of 1941, we lost everything including my Pop’s guns. His favorite gun was a 10 gauge Winchester lever action. This was an important gun to Pop because it provided meat for the table that would last all year.

By September, the men in town rebuilt our house and stores donated furniture, clothing and all the things that make a home complete. About the only thing missing was a shotgun to hunt ducks and geese.

I’m not sure where he got them but one day he came home with two Model 97 Winchester 12 gauge shotguns. He said he paid $10 each for them. I was only 7 years old but my brother, Shad, who was 12 years older than me and a great shot, took one of the guns. He and pop would go hunting and we soon had our rented frozen food locker stocked for the year. One of the other would usually take me along with them and I learned to call ducks and geese from my brother.

When I was about 10 Shad let me shoot one of the guns. It was really heavy but he held it up to my shoulder and when I pulled the trigger it knocked me back and I landed on my skinny butt. Pop wasn’t too pleased and said I had better wait until I was at least 12.

By the time I turned 12, Shad had enlisted in the Army Air Force so Pop gave me his gun. By that time I was more able to handle it but it still kicked like that proverbial Kentucky Mule. I think I weighed about 100 lbs and the shotgun weighed about 12 lbs. Not too good a ratio. I made it through the first duck season though and learned to give the birds the proper lead, thanks to an old expert, my Pop. I was proud of myself albeit with a sore shoulder.

I learned to shoot right handed and became quite proficient at the art. This all changed when I lost my right eye the summer I turned 14.

Fortunately, my friend Herb and I used to practice shooting our 22 rifles left handed and got pretty good at it. My left-handed shooting was nothing spectacular much to the relief of a few gophers

In October, when duck season started, I thought I would have no problem shooting my 12 gauge but boy was I mistaken. I had a hard time getting it up to my left shoulder properly and would usually end up with the butt on my muscle. I don’t think I ever got it right even when I took my time to place it on the shoulder. All I got out of it was a very badly bruised muscle which got worse the more I shot. I must have gone through 4 boxes of shells without hitting a thing. I was really disgusted with myself because my muscle was so sore I would flinch with each trigger pull and make me miss.

At that time, the water fowl season was 70 days. The worst day occurred near the end of the season. It was a balmy afternoon with the temperature about 25 degrees. It had been below zero most of the week and the ground was frozen solid. I was dressed in my usual long-handled underwear, wool pants, heavy jacket and shell vest. I had been out most of the day, walking from one field to another hoping to jump a flock of ducks from a slough or pond. I had made several missed shots and my shoulder was killing me. When I got to Everett Bell’s field I decided to lie down on the frozen ground and wait for something to fly by. I had been down for about 10 minutes when I heard a flock of Canadian Honkers approaching. I rose up a little and saw that they were headed straight for me. My decision was to wait until they were overhead and shoot while lying on my back. Wow, was that a mistake. I put the stock firmly against my shoulder and when the geese were right over head, I fired off one shot not taking into account that my shoulder had nowhere to go to absorb the recoil. I felt the bones in my shoulder crunch and I was in terrible pain. Needles to say I missed again and was hurting so much I headed home, a walk of about a mile. By the time I got there the pain had mostly subsided. Hunting season was about over so I put my gun away and vowed to learn to shoot left-handed by the next duck season. I had all spring and summer to practice with my trusty old Marlin 22 rifle. At least it was gentler on my muscle and shoulder bones.

How far away are those ducks?

Another thing that comes into play with having one eye is depth perception. Even though I had been one-eyed for over a year, I still had a hard time judging depth.

I recall one incident when my friends, Herb and Doyle were lying in a small depression in one of the grain fields, waiting for something to fly our direction. It was a warm afternoon and we were hiding behind some weeds. All of a sudden I yelled, “Ducks coming in”. I thought they were right on top of us so I jumped up ready to drop a duck or two. As soon as I did, my friends started laughing and said, “Wow. Charlie doesn’t know the difference between a bunch of flies and a flock of Mallards.” To my embarrassment, there were a few common flies swarming around the weed about 10 feet in front of me, but to my dratted depth perception, I could have sworn it was a flock of ducks. I took me a long time to live that one down. By that evening I was razzed by a lot of my friends including a few adults that I hunted with.

I went on to be a fairly good shot and even over came for the most part of the depth problem I did this by moving my head slightly to one side and letting my brain compute depth from two angles, almost as good as having two eyes.

Having one eye for over 65 years has never presented much of a problem. I was even drafted into the Army with one eye. I took my basic training at Fort Lewis Washington and was given special permission by the sergeant at the rifle range to shoot the M-1 rifle left handed. The only problem with that was that the empty cartridge ejected to the right and past the front of my face. I did OK though and got a Marksmanship medal to wear.

I haven’t shot a duck or goose in over 50 years now but I still have my old Model 97 Winchester that Pop gave me when he thought I was old enough to start providing meat for our larder. I have promised this gun to my son, Mike, when he next visits us in Montana. He won’t be able to shoot it though since lead shot is now outlawed and it would ruin the barrel if he were to shoot steel shot. After all, this old gun is over 100 years old and it must be treated with care.

I look forward to passing through those Pearly Gates and meeting up with my dear old Pop and brother Shad. I am hoping there are a few fields where we can call down a few Heavenly Ducks. I just hope we are allowed to use lead shot and the ducks are not faux fowl.