Growing up in Devils Lake: Duck hunting

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

When Labor Day rolled around it meant the end of summer. The swimming pool closed, baseball was over until next spring, and worst of all, school started the next day. What made the start of school tolerable was the fact we did not have  too long a wait for duck hunting season to start.

My dad started me duck hunting when I was six years old. I had the duck hat and coat. I even had hip boots. I think three generations of pigmies must have worn them before they got to me. They had holes not too far above the knees. At that point in my life, my knees were not very far off the ground so my wading had to take place in very shallow water.

One thing was missing, I had no gun. Dad explained that I could shoot his gun on occasion. What he did not explain is the function of the retriever. We did not have a dog. In hind sight, I believe the lack of a dog had a lot to do with my early introduction to duck hunting. Not all retrievers are Labradors, some are six year old sons. In dad’s defense, not once during the season did he shout “Fetch.”

I got to shoot my dad’s 16 gauge now and then and on occasion my Uncle Frank’s 12 gauge shotgun. For those not familiar with shotguns, the gauge designates the size of the black and blue mark on your arm after shooting. The smaller the gauge the larger the black and blue mark.

On one occasion, a friend of dad’s went with us. It was cold out and he decided to go to the car to warm up. He called me over to where he was hunting near the edge of a pothole and handed me his gun. It was like dad’s but bigger so I knew how to use it. It was a 10 gauge magnum. What magnum means is that the kick you get from a shotgun goes up by a very significant factor when the gun is a magnum. It is somewhat of a booster shot to the black and blue ratio.

Shortly after I was alone, a single duck headed in my direction. I stayed crouched down until it was directly overhead, took off the safety and pulled the trigger. I had the sensation of being driven into the ground like a spike. I believe my butt hit the ground before the pellets left the gun barrel. I figured the sound wave would have killed the duck, but he kept flying. My dad and uncle were sitting on a hillside not far away. I could not hear them laughing, but somehow I figured they must be. I know I would have.

As to the shotgun gauge-black and blue ratio, the next day my arm from elbow to shoulder looked as if it had soaked a couple of days in grape juice. The following season I got to borrow a 20 gauge bolt action from a neighbor. I had to return it cleaner than I got it each time I borrowed it. The gun gave me the freedom to get out of fetch range from my dad. I did not do a lot of fetching on my own. Most of the ducks I killed did not know they were dead and kept flying. When I was eight years old I got to borrow the same gun and keep it after hunting. I still had to clean it each day, take it back every night. Dad bought a case of shells for me and told me not to waste them. When they were gone my hunting season would be over.

Weekdays I would usually rush home from school, change into my hunting clothes and wait for dad to get home. He went to work very early so we could get in a couple hours of hunting before sunset. Weekends were most often a morning hunt and an evening hunt. On Sunday we hunted from before sunrise until time to head to St. Joseph’s for mass. The early mass was well represented by hunters in hunting coats and rolled down hip boots.

Then it was back out hunting again until about noon when it was time to head to the fire hall to watch a football game on one of the few televisions in town. Then back out hunting again. We hunted for sport as well as for food.

From my first Red Rider BB gun,  dad  warned me that you eat what you shoot. “Unless you  develop  a taste for sparrows or mud hens, learn what ducks taste good and stick to them.” Cleaning ducks was a family affair. We cleaned an awful lot of ducks and became quite proficient at it. What exceeded what we would eat soon went into a freezer to extend our duck eating well into the next year. The first thing was to take care of grandma.  The first few handfuls of the softest down breast feathers went into a pillow case to be taken to grandma. There they became down quilts and pillows.

At the end of my eight year old hunting season, I returned the borrowed shotgun after carefully cleaning it. I was told by the neighbor he could not take the gun back. I explained that the gun was perfectly cleaned but he insisted he could not take the gun back. I was devastated and asked what I had to do so he could take it. He said “I cannot take it back because it does not belong to me. Your dad bought it as a present for you.” I am not sure my feet touched the ground all the way home. I could not get home fast enough to give dad the biggest thank you hug of my life. I hunted for five more years with dad until we moved from Devils Lake.

I miss dad. I miss a lot of the things we did together. The bonding we did duck hunting ranks awfully high in the things I miss. What I’d give for one more hunt with him.

Robert Pfleiger was born at Mercy Hospital 4/10/1943. He spent his first 14 years in Devils Lake. Pfleiger attended St Mary's Academy through eight grade. His father, Casper Pfleiger, worked for Fairmont Foods and was transferred to Minneapolis in the summer of 1957. He attended high school and college in Minneapolis. After the University of Minnesota Pfleiger was married to his wife Mary and worked for Honeywell. He was transferred to Nashville TN in 1967. In 1980 he left Honeywell and started Ener-Tech Industries which he has since sold. Now, he is semi retired but still works part time at Ener-Tech. The Pfleigers raised four daughters and have five grandchildren and like to travel when they have the time..