Monday, August 14, 2017

They call him, Mister Sweetness!
By Bob Zettler
August 14, 2017

Some call me obsessed. Some call me crazy. And some stupid. Whatever the case, I love to go fishing and hunting. And over the years I have been blessed to have come into contact with so many good and great people who hunt and/or fish. And while ALL of these individuals have been kind to me over the years, and years, and....years, when it comes to all-around Walter Payton(ish), I think of Brian Cleland.

We first met via maybe 8-10 (??) years ago when he learned he was also going to be fishing at Lake Shelbyville for Crappie when a coworker and me were headed over one day and we exchanged contact information to share how we were doing or if we ran into trouble. Now my coworker and I were having a difficult time finding Crappie and around 1030 AM Brian texted me to ask how we were doing and I replied, “not so good.” It turned out Brian was already done and he asked where we were as he was down at the south end of the lake, while we were up north of the Findlay Marina. Now he had put in down there but a few minutes later he motored up and officially introduced himself.

After some initial banter he offered to put us on fish before he left and we accepted! This is where it gets interesting. You see he had been fishing way down by Coon Cove and when we arrived he threw out his own marker buoys and told us exactly where to drop our lines. Within minutes we were boating Crappie, GOOD Crappie! Unfortunately, he had to leave soon but told me to hold onto the buoys and he would get them another time. Now how often does a stranger do something like this for some yahoo who he only knows from an Internet forum!

Well the years have passed and he and I fish every now and then out of his boat where I ALWAYS have a great time but it had been awhile until last Thursday. He had read of how I had been having a difficult time catching Crappie the last month and he took pity on me and offered to take me out after work the next week. We tentatively agreed on the next Thursday as I was headed to St. Louis for the morning but could be back for a late afternoon excursion. On that day while I was wrapping up my business, he texted me throughout the day about whether he could get out of work and take me for our previously arranged 4 PM start. No need to fear, he moved the start time forward to 445 PM and he literally pulled in right behind me as I arrived at Bo Woods,

A quick turnaround and we are on the water headed to our first spot by 5 PM. And it was a doozy and one I probably would have a difficult time finding or holding on due to its location way out in the lake – my boat hates the wind. He decides for us to use just one pole each and its on like Donkey Kong!!! Almost every cast of mine brought up the elusive “Over” Crappie that I had been searching for the past several months while Brian was, as he said, “getting the small ones out of my way.”

We soon had nearly a dozen keepers in the live-well and moved on to the next spot where we added several more. Now we were racing darkness so time was of the essence, so we only spent a short time at each spot, especially since we had so little time left. And, much to my pleasure, he was also trying to show me where to look and find brush-piles that I normally have the darnedest time finding even with a GPS and even a leftover marker buoy floating on it. Heck-fire, he said I could mark the spots on my GPS to boot! What a guy...

Anyway, to wrap this up without telling you all the six spots he introduced me to, suffice to say that in 150 minutes from the time we entered the water till we were back in the parking lot, he and I put 23 keepers (ALL our OVERS and the rest UNDERS) in the live-well. In addition, as I was having so much fun, I only marked 2.5 of the spots but I am totally content with that since that is but an infinitesimal portion of the spots he has on Lake Shelbyville alone and each pone produced more for us in a short time than my spots had in an all day outing.

So, Brain Cleland (aka Mister Sweetness), my continued admiration for your fishing prowess and appreciation for how you have helped me achieve what I have as I fish for Crappie! Thank you so very much.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hey Billy, do you like Gladiator movies?”
June 6, 2016
By Bob Zettler

I love to hunt and fish. No, let’s face it, hunting and fishing IS my life to a large extent nowadays as I gave up on finding the right woman years ago. So nowadays there are my children, who I love and am proud of, and then there is hunting and fishing. And since it is nearly the summer solstice, fishing is it till September 1 where I begin to go crazy over hunting Early Canada geese and an afternoon shoot for dove. But until then, it’s fishing. Period.

As such, I go most every weekend and every opportunity that presents itself, whether it is as the guest or host. And there is a big difference between the two for when I am the guest, I arrive before they ask me to meet and quit when they say quit. BUT, and that is a BIG BUT, when I am the host I go as long as I can physically stay awake most times and that will tax most anyone else in the world for they have family commitments, jobs and the need for sleep…

I have been ridiculed for my 19, 20, 21 hour trips over to Lake Shelbyville where I will fish from a late afternoon or early evening, into the night hours and then go after those Crappie until either I catch my limit or just cannot see the water. I tell people who join me that they can come and go as they choose for they do not have to “stay the course” and beat themselves up on one of my expeditions. And, I have had a number of people join me where they come late or leave early and this has worked out for it suits us both. And then there was Craig…

I met Craig years ago when he joined Holden and I on what was probably one of the best pheasant hunts I will ever be on. It was wild birds and it was maybe one of his first times out and we bumped into Craig and a friend as we walked the farms of east central Illinois. “WE” scored a full 10 bird limit that day and I simply could not miss. I think the final bird of the day was one that flushed as we were headed back to the vehicles and on my third shot I crushed him at an unbelievable distance whereupon Chunk, my Yellow Lab retrieved him with his Father, JJ, and his brother, Taz in tow. And to top the day off, as we recuperated and relived the hunt from the tailgates of trucks, we witnessed the Northern Lights in the sky – a first for several. It was a magical day and one for the ages but I digress, as usual…

Fast forward to this weekend where Craig had just gotten out of the Army and wanted to go with me over to Lake Shelbyville so I told him he could join me for whatever time he wanted and he wanted it ALL. So we made plans to meet up around 10 PM on Saturday and we would be responsible for our own food and beverages and I would get minnows and catfish bait and he would try for some bluegill and shad. I tried to sleep but a pesky cold and multiple phone calls and texts over the afternoon interrupted my slumber. We met at Leprechaun Landing where I keep my boat at 10 PM and readied ourselves and the watercraft before getting on the water well before 11 PM.

With searchlights ablaze, GPS(s) leading the way, we motored up the lake from Wolf Creek to near Point 6, maybe 4 or so miles in total darkness, sans a few stars. I told him to never tell my kids I do this for they would freak out. I mean, boating in total darkness after a rain using only searchlights and my GPS’s at nearly 30 MPH – they would either commit me or take away my keys! Anyway, we made it there unscathed and discovered others were already there so we tried the island nearby and discovered that the wind the weatherman had said would be light was…shall we say, not, which made it near impossible to keep the jugs off the shoreline. Decided finally to head into a nearby cove and set my 25 floaters with cut shad and chicken livers before boating over to the local marina area where it was lighted and held some fish.

We fished that area until 4 AM and caught a good number of Crappie, with just a couple of keepers, and returned to our catch in the cove. Started pulling my jugs and discovered several had their bait removed; none had fish with several up near the banks. One that was right up against the back we got a surprise, a Soft-Shelled turtle – a BIG one. He had tried to free himself by going under a stump and we could simply not budge him or the stump so we decided to get back to him. Then we discovered another one held a snapping turtle on it – WOW! Not knowing the legality, nor wanting to deal with it, he was cut free. Finally we saw one jug moving like the barrel in Jaws and after a brief chase were able to boat the 8 pound Catfish. Sweet. However, none of the other jugs held fish and several were missing bait so we decided to free the other turtle as well. Hopefully we made the right decisions…

As it was now breaking daylight, we went after Crappie with a vengeance and I put us on one of my spots where we began to catch them! We caught a lot but very few keepers with most being in the 8-9” range but a couple of Overs did make their way onto our hooks. After a couple of hours we decided to head over to the Coalshaft Bridge area but discovered the winds we had been fighting all night were even worse there and with no other boats trying their luck there I reached out to Brian for help.

Brian Cleland is quite possibly one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and has helped me since before we even met in person. Brian quickly replied and sent me tips on where to look and amazingly, I found them! And, we were on Crappie again – a lot of Crappie – but where I could do no wrong at our first spot and had added several fish to our catch, nothing was going right here. With snags, broken lines, and all, I was spending most of my time at getting untangled, unsnagged or replacing lost gear. But Craig came up with the idea that if we had an anchor then maybe it would be easier. DUH! I have two anchors! So we get one out, motor past the spot and I drop anchor letting the line glide through my hands and into the depths. Did I say glide? I meant RIP through my hands as it had a hook stuck in the rope and as I wasn’t wearing Kevlar, well let me say the experience wasn’t one I wanted repeated!

Yet, after the blood was washed off the bow, I was back on the fish and…you guessed it, getting tangled, losing gear and getting wrapped up in ropes, lines and the like but I still managed a Crappie or three. After a couple hours and nearing Noon, I asked him what he wanted to do, expecting him to say how good a tall, cold Coors would be right about then but he surprised me by saying let’s try the other spot! Que sera, sera. Can’t this boy get enough!

Onto that spot and another anchor drop and you guessed it, another shredded hand palm, as I had taken out the one hook, I found another! And Jeez Louise, we…I mean Craig, began catching Overs all the while I am trying to stem the blood loss and get myself untangled and the like. By Noon, the winds were tougher and now the pleasure boaters were out and we had a good number of fish but the minnows were down to a couple of dead ones – I had been using the dead ones AND still catching Crappie – so I asked Craig what was his pleasure and he shocked me. I thought he would say it had been a good time and let’s head for the Hills for a cold Coors. Instead, he said we could stop by the Marina, buy some more minnows and try the spot we had started off at before heading back to the ramp. Now, as most who know me, that is usually what I would say but this time it was another and I was the vict…I mean, the one ready to be done. Somewhere I was quite sure pigs were learning to fly…

Onto the Marina where we pick up another batch of minnows, as we had already gone through more than 10 dozen, and back at the first brushpile where roles are reversed again and I am catching fish while Craig is trying to get untangled. Stayed at it for awhile and finally decided to hit those other spots we had last been at before calling it a day. While we found the one spot, I really had problems finding the other and then the winds were truly a pain in the posterior. Yet, we managed a couple more keepers and then ran out of the second batch of minnow! I mean we went through maybe 200+ minnows and were just shy of a two man limit of Crappie but the killer was I had been ready to call it a day four hours earlier!!!

With the jigs losing their effectiveness and not even a dead minnow in the bucket (I had resorted to using the dried ones that had fallen on the boat’s deck several times already), Craig finally said we could call it and it was well after 5 PM the day after we had begun our expedition. Wow. Just Wow!

The boat ride was wet as there were whitecaps and that pesky wind but we made good time all weighed down with gear, coolers and now fish. Let Craig off and he backed my van and trailer down and we were soon off to our home sweet home – around 6:30 PM! What made my day was when Craig said that not only had he had a great time but it was also the most fish he had ever caught – in his life! Tears of pride and accomplishment swelled in my heart…

Yet, nearly 21 hours on the boat was enough and while I had been feeling great on the boat, it truly hit me once I walked on shore. With another 90 minutes to home for me, I set off and made it to my driveway shortly after 8 PM whereupon it took me a full five minutes to get myself out of the van and in the front door, leaving a trail of clothes in my wake and the fish on ice as I collapsed into my bed.

It had been a great time but I felt like I had been vanquished for I had never been so tired IMHO. And when that chicken I ate on the way home decided to make its emergency exit from my bowels at midnight and I wasn’t sure I could sit upright on the throne, I realized Craig was right that eating chicken on an empty stomach after it having sat out all afternoon wasn’t such a good idea. So while it might have appeared like a tie and that this old man outlasted the young Army Gladiator, I am now just not so sure about that…

Anyway, thank you to Brian, Shawn and all the rest who assisted me on our expedition and welcome home for Craig. God Bless everyone (but not a couple of ex-wives)!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cursed or Blessed?
By Bob Zettler
April 11, 2016

I am blessed sometimes and today was an unexpected one…

One of my nicknames is “Dark Cloud” due to all the “stuff” that either happens to me or around me. I mean last week it a broken drainage (read that sewage) pipe underneath the crawlspace, this past weekend was finding out that the railroad is creating a new crossing right through where I store a lot of “stuff” and then there was this morning, the opening day of the 2016 Illinois Wild Turkey (First) Season for the northern zone.

My usual opener is mostly a scouting mission whereupon I try to capitalize on past experience(s) and current conditions. Now the last couple of years had been a little tough as it seemed a big Bobcat had moved in and even the deer numbers were down. Again, I am still blessed as the landowner has let me hunt his property for maybe 10 years or so and he has a pretty good population of Wild Turkeys on or adjacent to the farm with enough terrain to wear out even the hunter who is in shape. And by shape, I do not mean round as I am but someone who can go up and down the ravines and the like without having a heart attack or calling for a med-evac!

Now I had spent most of the weekend getting ready by cleaning my shotguns and returning the primary three to a 3-shot capacity down from their extended magazines for the Conservation Order Season for Snow geese. Then there was getting the right clothes and gear together and all the sundry odds & ends like calls, video cameras, shells, and, of course, my permit. This was in addition to washing clothes, cleaning house, etc. And while I had a great time with my daughter and her husband of two weeks for an excellent leg-of-lamb dinner, it took a five hour chunk of time out of all the aforementioned!

Interesting aside on my hunting clothes. I wear leafy camo jackets over everything that I layer on as the weather can change in a flash here in Illinois. It can start out with snow in the morning and be in the 60's by Noon. But what got my attention this time was I all of a sudden started getting what I call “clench-throat” where the pollen(s) and the like come the third week of Turkey Season will be so thick that all of a sudden I will start to choke – which is not conducive to chasing turkeys or one's health. And that is when I recalled I hadn't washed them since last season and hat the artifacts were still potent a year later, kind of like how Poison Ivy/Oak can remain potent on our clothes for months – I discovered this years ago when I got a bad rash from them in early December.

Anyway, I digress but I had to establish the background as it seems that no matter how long you have to prepare for it, it ALWAYS comes down to the last minute crisis that keeps me up late the night before and last night was no exception. I couldn’t find my permit, nor could I find any of my dozen shotgun carry slings or my….well, I actually did find the permit and just gave up on the rest as it was near 10 PM and I had to get up by 3:45 AM in order to get to the farm well before legal shooting time. Amazingly, I got to sleep right away and that is unusual as I suffer from severe to moderate RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) and Insomnia. But even though I fell asleep by 10:30 PM, I still had to get up twice to perform “old man” obligations in the bathroom. Que sera. Que sera.

There was a big part of me that simply did not want to get out of bed this morning but somehow I managed to and was out the door about 4:10 AM after making several trips loading up the van with my two shotguns, boots, 18-gallon container of hunting “stuff” and the like. Fortunately, I had a spare slip-on sling in the van so I would make do with that for the opener. Then it was westward until I remembered my cell phone was still at home – got to make sure I can call 911# when I need to – and made it to the farm around 5:25 AM which provided me with plenty of time to get my gear on and head to the general area I always start with, for historically it holds birds. You see, in my thirty years of chasing Turkeys, I can count on one hand the number of times I have roosted birds and this was no exception and that is why I wanted to allow enough time for me to haul my carcass across the open field and into the woods BEFORE the birds started to sound off.

Now I have a bum right knee and my back is always killing me – some say it’s the extra 100 pounds I carry but what do they know – and I was halfway to the edge of the woods when the first bird sounded off, then the second, third and so forth! Life is good some mornings but it sounded like I might have company as it sounded like another hunter on the edge of the farm hooting his owl call every 20 seconds! C'mon guy, you heard where they are sounding off, there is no need to blow them out of there on opening day! Unfortunately, the woods are already greened up thicker than snot in places and the birds were sounding off several hundred yards deeper than normal, so I had to forge my way through the brush to get as close as I felt comfortable to the four or more sounding off maybe 100 yards or less away to my right. Sure I could hear one way back from where I had parked but he would never travel that distance and I had these right where I wanted them, or so I thought...

I decided on an semi-open area that looked good and one I had hunted in several times as I could hear Hens on both sides of me – and close! After I had sat down, I started to wonder if I hadn’t set up above the first hunter I had ever heard on the adjacent property as there had been a pop-up blind there the last several years and this guy, or guys, would not shut up! I mean it was non-stop yelps, kelps, clucks and the like just 40 or so yards away to my left and slightly down into the primary ravine running the length of the farm edge. But, hey, with him calling and I am already seeing Hens walk near me within 20 to 45 yards, those four or five Tom’s just might beat feet to me and make this one of the first openers in a long time where I scored. Or would it?

Interesting, those four or more Tom’s had gone quiet early but not till after it sounded like they were actually moving away from me, while the one that had been a quarter mile away to my left sounded like he was getting closer. And those two hunters, they had gone quiet. I was in a pickle as I could not move as I had deer and turkey all around me and I sure didn’t want to get shot by those hunters down below me. So I waited…

Then, it got more interesting as the two hunters had been quiet for a long time now BUT that Tom from afar was now pretty darnn close; actually between those “hunters” and me now. Then I decided that maybe those hunters were actually Hen’s after I saw that Tom appear with his deep red head and neck just 35 yards away. But he had so much downed tree branches and the like between us that I had no what I would call a good shot. Sure, I had both video cameras rolling and hopefully they captured him, and I almost took the shot when just his head and most of his neck was exposed in a very, very small opening but it was for only for a second or two and it wasn’t a high percentage shot IMHO. And as he was responding to my calls (forget those real Hens), I should be able to get him into the open as he traveled from my left to right. Alas, he was fleet of foot and was chasing tail that he must have spotted from his vantage point and they all headed deeper into the woods away from me and back towards the pond…damn, he was a really good bird too!

I waited awhile and then began the slow trek in the direction they had disappeared towards and kept spooking deer left and right. Mostly left but I kicked up maybe 7 or 8 of them as I went farther and farther from where I was parked with no turkey sounds to lead me either. I took a breather finally at the junction of two areas known for Turkey and actually catnapped for 20-30 minutes before deciding to head back towards the area I had started in and closer to my van as this would be ALL uphill. I had heard one gobble in response to my calling earlier and thought I had seen a red head pop up on the edge of the no-till corn field but had to give up when it never reappeared.

Got back to the edge of the field where they usually roost next too and close to where that one Tom I had seen had come from and decided to give it till 11:15 AM before heading to the Van. I immediately fell asleep (ala George Moon) and woke up 20 minutes later when the cool ground had transferred most of the heat out of my body. Gave a few calls and waited another 5 minutes before deciding to get up and go and that’s when I saw two or three birds making their way towards me. Probably Jakes and Hens but not sure but IMHO it held out hope that a Tom would be in tow and sure enough five minutes later there he was, the Big Boy from earlier. However, he was on the opposite ridge and the adjacent farm but he was coming and responding to my calls!

Even though he disappeared behind a big tree, I could hear him gobble and he was less than a 100 yards away and he sure was loud. Wait a minute, he was getting closer but didn’t that last gobble come from behind me on my side and MUCH louder? There he went again and I realized I had Tom’s on both sides of me with the ones on my side a lot closer! So I shifted around 180 degrees and in less than a minute I saw a head on the outside edge of the woods coming from the field – Hallelujah! Wait, there Is another head, and another and another? What the ____!

Then, Nirvana hit as one, no two, no three, no four Tom’s came strolling into the woods and at range of less than 25 yards. No time to measure beards or look at spurs as they ALL had nice ropes and the safety was off, trigger pulled and BBD (Big Bird Down)! I will have to look at the video to see how many there were as several vamoosed with my shot and I had filled my Illinois First Season Permit on opening day! And to make it all that much better, he was double-bearded with a 9.25” and a 4.75” beard with 1” spurs. You gotta love it when things work out even when all my planning in advance wasn’t quite complete – no shotgun strap, no single vision glasses (I wear bifocals), no leafy camo top (I had brought two pairs of pants), etc.

It will be a long wait till my Fourth and Fifth Season Tags what with the weather greening up the woods a few weeks earlier than normal and the birds ahead but I’m not complaining today – yet!

POSTSCRIPT I weighed him in a Rubbermaid container that weighed maybe a pound or so and combined they weighed 27.6 pounds! WOW, that's one of the heaviest birds I've ever killed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Coffee sucks!
By Bob Zettler
February 2, 2016

In 1974 I was stationed at Brooks AFB in San Antonio, Texas and assigned to the Research Section as a Physiological Training Specialist. Now the Viet Nam War had basically ended and several in my unit had previously served (we called them “Lifers”) but not seen any “action.”  Our enlisted head was a reformed alcoholic who performed mechanical repair on the side for many of his superiors and was a quiet sort.  Then there was Maloney, someone I came to despise by the time I left there.  He was a drunk, loudmouth who openly cheated on his wife and I had no respect for him.  And there was Bentley who had been a Canadian and self-professed former hippie but had chosen to be a “lifer” and was a pretty good egg.  Then there was Schultz who was a really nice guy but wouldn’t take any guff from Maloney or others – he got shipped to Okinawa eventually for rocking the apple cart.  My boss was Juan who had NEVER left Texas and while patient with upstarts like me – I was the first ever Airman/Airman First-Class that had ever been assigned to this unit as all others had been Sergeant or above – was in over his head organizationally.

Yes, I was rebellious after just living in the East Bay of California for a year and having fun.  In retrospective, I thought I was too smart for my own good.  And one thing that rubbed me raw was being ordered around…smart move to enter the Service.  Hell, even my Dad cautioned me against going in but that’s another story as this one is about coffee.

Yes, coffee!  That beverage many require in the mornings to even get moving and for our unit that was truly the case for everyone but me!  I was a soda kind of guy and had been raised on that and Hot Tea – my mother was British – so coffee was alien to me even though my father drank it at home and when out to eat.

So here I am in a unit where coffee was so important that they had rigged up one of those 20-cup percolator coffee pots with a timer so there would be coffee ready as they straggled into the office each morning.  Each of us was required to take turns to get the coffee pot ready for the next morning on the night before by filling it with water and placing the appropriate amount of coffee grounds in the strainer.  The timer was a 24-hour timer so we were ready for the Tuesday-Friday “grind” and someone would be required to come in early every Monday to ensure the coffee was made for that day – no three day timers back then!

As I had a custom to rebelling against being told what to do (hmm, wonder where my children get that characteristic?), didn’t drink coffee and was already having issues with my “superiors”, a fiendish plot began to develop.  I decide to sabotage the coffee!  No, not with poison but with things like nuts and bolts, salt and other non-lethal crap around the research building I worked in.  It tickled me that first time they tasted my brand of coffee as I expected to have to clean up the floors covered with sprayed coffee but it would be worth it! 

I especially focused on Maloney as he took the first sip to try and clear his head from the previous night of debauchery cheating on his wife and getting drunk.  And I waited, and waited and waited but no one sprayed their coffee on the floors or desks!  I kept at it over the next four days and tried varying combinations of non-lethal “extras” but no one rejected my brews and in fact started to prefer my budding Barista talents to the others!

This just wasn’t fair!  And, no, I did not urinate in the pot of coffee (at least I don’t recall doing so) and finally gave in to sample it myself a couple of times whereupon I spit it out till I learned the benefit of using tons of cream and sugar just like I did with my Tea.  Curses, foiled again!

Now, its 40 years later and I mentioned this story to a man working temporarily in the office and he floors me!  It turns out that a trick restaurants use to making bitter coffee more palatable is to add a pinch of salt as it seems to take the bite out of it.  So here I have been carrying this burden and failure around with me for FORTY YEARS and finally discover that by dumb luck, fate or divine intervention I had discovered unbeknownst to me that my devious efforts to corrupt the delivery of coffee had been thwarted to the opposite end of the spectrum.

It sucks not being able to be a bad person even when you try to be!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life truly is a rollercoaster….
By Bob Zettler
October 11, 2015

“You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together!

Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing.

I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

That was Grandma from the movie Parenthood providing a parable for Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen when they were faced with multiple life-changing issues towards the end of the movie in what I still consider a great way to wrap-up the movie – and for a lot of us as well.  I mean, after all, one of my nicknames is Dark Cloud due to all the weird and “interesting” things that happen to me and the people around me.

Yesterday was…shall we say, “Interesting.”

It started out with a road trip to go fishing at Lake Shelbyville, which in itself is something I had done almost every weekend this past May through September 1.  However, this time my son was going with me and we hadn’t been out on the boat together in a long time.  As usual we got a late start and arrive at Leprechaun Landing a little before 10 AM – had hoped to be there before 6 AM.  Pulled the boat out of storage and began the process of cleaning it up from its last outing on September 1 for Early Season Goose hunting.  Didn’t take long and it was time to introduce Jon to Virgil and Perry Jones who own and operate the store.  Interesting is that I knew them both more than 30 years ago when I lived in Champaign and hunted on some land they farmed up by Mahomet.  Small world.

So Jon gets his fishing license and I buy six-dozen minnows and a large bag of ice.  Virgil’s count of six dozen minnows is always way off and this time was no exception.  I will probably have seven dozen left after catching our 30 Crappie limit!  So as we walk out the door, Virgil asks us as we get to the van if we want our minnows – seems we left them at the counter.  Que sera.

Grab the minnow cooler and head down to Wolf Creek.  “Boy, a lot of trailers in the parking lot,” I think to myself as I am usually getting there around dark and most have left for the day.  Get out and start to back the boat into the water and realize we had forgotten our ice.  Put the clamps back on and sheepishly head back to the Landing and hope no one notices.  Virgil is right there and says, “Forgot your ice too?”  After flipping him off we head back to the ramp and finally get the boat on the water around 11 AM. 

Well, the motor is sluggish and I am worried about it so we decide to simply fish the closest area using the trolling motor. Now I had been provided leads from my very good friend Brian and Tyler, so this area was not on their list but wouldn’t you know it, I catch the first Crappie and he is an over in just a few casts and my son catches an even bigger Crappie right after me.  Life is good!

We hit a good clump of Crappie and fish it for quite a while and then proceed to hit trees and stumps throughout the cove but none of it was as good as the first area we hit so we worked our way back over the course of the next three hours or so.  I didn’t see anyone else doing any better so I wasn’t too unhappy and thought we ought to be thinking of heading home around 4 PM as we had left our dog, Hutch, all alone and inside since 8:30 AM.

Now comes the real me, the die-hard many of my hunting crew have come to fear and that is, “I’ll just hit this one more stump/tree/structure and we can go.”  Or the, “I’ll just hit those two trees and we can go.”  This was repeated a number of times before I decided enough was enough for a change – it was nearly 6 PM…

Anyway, we get the boat out and everything situated and head back to Leprechaun to put it in storage for what might be the winter and that is when I think about extending our trip a little and head home via Champaign to pick up some decoys another good friend is holding for me.  I ask Jon if that is okay and call Keith who just happens to be home.  Get his address and discover that Champaign is a tad farther than I remember, so I put the hammer down and head north hoping Hutch can hold his bladder another two hours or so…

And, then I get another idea - I am full of them too you know!  And I ask Jon if he would break his diet for a Papa Del’s Pan Pizza.  After much gnashing of teeth, he reluctantly agrees, and we order one for pickup…in 45 minutes.  Hey, they are god pizzas!  We make it to Keith’s home in record time and after chatting and loading the decoys, he gives my son and me several gifts that he brought home from his sister’s home who had passed away last year.  Keith is another very good friend and a very good man.

We leave after maybe 15 minutes of chatting which is unusual for me as I can talk, and talk and…, well, those that know me, know what I mean and we head off to Papa Del’s for our reward.  Get the pizza and I realize I have to get gas before leaving town and Jon decides we need paper plates so he goes inside and gets plates while I fuel up.  I was done before him so I pulled up to the front and checked my Cell for emails and the like only to discover an unusual icon on the home screen which turned out to be a message that basically said that my niece was at my parents cemetery in Champaign and their tombstone was knocked over and their grave was DUG UP!

I would think that would come as a shock to just about anyone so I called my niece who I had not seen in some time only to get a recording, so I left a message and was creating a text when she called back.  Now my parents are buried right across the street from Memorial Stadium at what I joking refer to as near the 50-yard line at Mount Hope and it is home to many former residents of Champaign County – and I thought well regarded.  So after telling Jenn I will be there in about 10 minutes, I call the police and get switched around to God only which unit and was told someone would be there shortly.

We make it there through the remnants of the Illini football game crowd (they lost) and arrive to see her van parked with the headlights shining onto the gravestones.  That’s when we see that my parent’s gravestone is not the only ones overturned and damaged but that there are several.  And, yes, the gravesite appears to have been dug into and the earth thrown back on top.  I know my niece loved her Grandparents, as I loved them, so I tried to remain calm and collected. Now my parent’s gravestone is unique and HEAVY.  We had it designed when my Mother passed away 31 years ago.  It depicts a scene with two people fishing and one has a fish on, while the other is still fishing.  And, under my Mother’s name there is the Union Jack, or the British Flag, and under my Father’s is the American Flag.  Why?  Because my Mother was a war bride and retained her proud British heritage and remained a British subject till the day she died.  And, of course, my Father was American and had been in the Army when they met.  This all just fit them and we could not tell if it was damaged as it was face down in the dirt.

We all took pictures and when the police came, they were very kind, respectful and considerate.  As we took in the macabre scene, with at least five markers or gravestones either overturned or moved, ruts from heavy equipment, dug up graves and the like, my son noticed and pointed out how this one tree looked to have been recently cut, or, damaged and cut – something none of us had even noticed.  Then we looked the crime scene over again and started to find wood chips, sawdust and more tire tracks all throughout the gravestones with what appeared to be no respect for hallowed ground by people with a wood-chipper, chainsaw and backhoe.

So, we have now gone from vandalism, grave-robbers, to possible (and incomprehensible) cemetery employees having caused the damage!  As no one at the cemetery (living) responded to repeated calls, the police said they would follow-up and get back with us.  And, as my parent’s gravestone was still lying face down, they offered to help right it, whereupon it took five of us to simply right it and slide it back into position.  There was another gravestone that was face-down but it will take a crane to fix it.

I begrudgingly had to say our goodbyes for they still had a 2.5 hour trip and we had another 90 minutes before we would be home – and poor Hutch needed to be let out.  It was a bittersweet moment for me at least, as we had not seen each other in years due to family issues and Jenny and I had been very close when she was younger.  She has turned into a great mother, wife and women and…well, nuff said.

So, yes, life for me is a roller-coaster most days and nights but for the most part I like it that way…for the most part!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Chunk’s Black Licorice
November 1, 2004
By Bob Zettler

My annual trek to North Dakota (ND) is over and its 80 degree’s here in central Illinois (IL) the day before our duck opener! What a difference a week makes!

This was my 15th anniversary of hunting in ND. While I haven’t hunted every year, I have made it there every year now for the last five and each year is a different experience, with the primary item that remains consistent are the great people I meet up there. Whether they are from ND, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Arkansas, Colorado, California, or whatever part of North America, I have been blessed with having hunted with some of the best people you can imagine. I sincerely mean that and especially with regard to ALL the ND hunters I met this year!!

This was one trip I had been preparing for since the summer - a first for me. That meant getting my gear together, sorting through it all, ensuring I had all that I needed, and making final preparations for when I would travel up north and whom I would share time with. In the past four years, that hadn’t been an issue, as I had been hunting for the most part with a good friend in the Granville area. However, this year due to health reasons, he had to drop out and I had to quickly explore alternative opportunities. In addition, while I usually travel to ND the last week of October, I had to amend my itinerary to start a week early as some friends of mine from Arkansas had already scheduled themselves there for the 15-17.

I thought my dark cloud had reappeared into my life and started a mad scramble searching for people to hunt with. For many years now, I had maintained a list of people I either knew, had talked with, or hunted with in ND; a list that had grown from three pages to the current 10 pages. As I sent out emails or called to see what they were up to, I had a reply from someone who it turned out had a house in Kenmare but lived in Indiana. Not only that but they planned on being there during the time I was now scheduling to be there. What was even more amazing was that they invited me to stay and hunt with them and we had never met!!!

Things started to look better.

Then I started to reply to posts on the two primary web sites and mentioned my plight (hint, hint) and lo and behold, I started to hear from several people I had never met before too all who live in ND!!! All of a sudden, my dance card began to fill up.

However, there was another issue that was impacting my trip and that was decoys and hunting gear. You see, I had severely downsized this past year and no longer had the full-size van that would allow me to carry a major portion of my decoys and I hadn’t had to worry about that since my friend in Granville had a trailer and “all the fixin’s.” Now I am driving a four-door Concord and had to fit my 105-pound Yellow Lab in with me to boot. But since my “dance card” was filled up with people who had trailers of gear, I wasn’t too worried. Ever the cautious one, I still wanted to bring along the goose shell decoys and some field duck decoys so I didn’t have to worry. I had the duck decoys all ready and the goose shells sitting outside, when one of our other Yellow Lab’s decided to drag the bag down and chew up the goose heads two days before leaving. God, I hate that dog!

So, I installed a portable luggage rack on the roof of the car, threw an enclosed cargo case on top of that loaded with Raffia grass, PowerHunter blind, some decoys, and the like, packed the inside of the car to the inside roof and filled the trunk, before setting out on my journey north. But as usual, life struck again and I had to have my car worked on just before I left to correct a “Check Engine” light. So, a few hundred dollars lighter, I set off for my 11-hour drive from central IL to Fargo on Friday afternoon, October 15.

Mother Nature must have known I was coming, as I fended off 20+mph head winds ALL the way there, along with rain and jerk drivers. Then, around Minneapolis, my Cell broke. My brand new VERIZON LG4400 cell quit working. Try to imagine driving down the interstate and you realize your lifeline for the next 10 days wouldn’t work and your trying to avoid other vehicles while you try to see if it was something I had done to make it quit. A 100-miles later, I discovered the cell had magically switched to only working with a headset! As I usually carry most everything (ask the people who saw my car). I found a Star Trek earpiece and voila’, it worked. Called Verizon and was told only two places could fix the cell a store in Fargo or Bismarck. I was not a happy camper.

However, I forged on, as I had already made arrangements to hunt with a crew from Fargo and would either meet them at 3 AM in Fargo, or at 4 AM some 50 miles west and we would decide at 3 AM when I called them! As I made it there before 2:30 AM, I decided to get myself ready and clean out the debris that had already started to accumulate in the car by stopping at the Flying J Truck Stop in Fargo. After parking in front out of the wind and getting gas, I let the dog out to stretch his legs and I proceeded to get my gear ready. Around 2:45 AM, I saw a couple of hunters getting gas (in camo and were hauling a trailer), and I asked them if they were going out (3 AM was the earliest I had ever left to go setup in ND ever!) hunting. Well, the guys walked over as if to size me up, and as they drew close, the one guy asked if I was Bob Zettler!

Now, I know my fame sometimes gets the better of me, and that I can appear disorganized, but never in my wildest imagination did I ever anticipate people in ND would start to associate an Illinois car with my name! Yes, my license plate says, “IL HNTR 1”, but how in the world did these guys know my name?

It turns out they were part of the crew I was going to hunt with that day some 70 miles away! I was relieved and we made more complete introductions before departing to catch up with Dan Levin who called to let me know he was on an exit ramp and to meet him there. No one could believe the odds of us running into each other.

Well, the convoy began and some 90 minutes later we started to enter the field we were going to hunt when my “Check Engine” light came on. God, I hate the local Chrysler garage here in Springfield!!! I never slowed down’

Well, we all met there in the dark and what a crew I had lucked into - “my original host djleye and his crew of Gandergrinder, Goosebuster3, Decoyer, and Field Hunter. We ran the gamut from young to middle age. And these guys know their stuff!!! They scout. They have decoys. They have trailers. They have layout blinds. They camo their blinds with natural vegetation found in the field. They are excellent callers. They are excellent hunters. I began to worry they were all Mormons.

This was probably the best hunt of the entire trip and was hard to beat. We took 31 ducks and were pulling out of the field shortly after 10 AM. And my untrained Lab, Chunk, made most of the retrieves. Papa was proud and everyone got a kick out of how he would pounce on the ducks at the end of his retrieve. We didn’t lose any and I lived up to my reputation of not being able to either ID correctly or hit properly waterfowl and they dubbed me the Hen Killer. Hey, I hadn’t been afield since last December and while I wanted Greenheads too, they looked green to me that is until my dog picked them up and brought them back to me.

Anyway, we went to have lunch where I learned firsthand that they ARE NOT MORMONS! Not even close. In addition, in another ironic turn of events, I discovered that I had PM’d a couple of the guys in the last month when one had harvested a banded duck from an organization I had been a Board Member. Starting to get weird’

I was beat, as I had not slept in 36 hours, but called my friends from Arkansas who were staying in Minot and supposed to have been hunting in the Kenmare area as I left my new hunting buddies from Fargo to see how they were doing. They were miserable. It seems the contact they had in Kenmare who said they had set everything up in advance hadn’t exactly gotten it right. After the boys from Arkansas driving 17 hours, with one of them with the Flu, they had joined up with their contact Friday AM to hunt upland and waterfowl. They then proceeded to drive ALL over the area looking for a place to hunt, never once getting out of their vehicles! It appears he hadn’t established a place to hunt and wouldn’t knock on any doors to ask permission!

They weren’t too happy and left him to jump shoot some potholes ND style for the late afternoon. That at least salvaged the day by virtue of them limiting on ducks hunting in a fashion that isn’t possible in Arkansas. When their contact failed to show for supper or get back with them on their hunt for Saturday, they truly weren’t happy, but this wasn’t the worst as they all came down with the 24-hour flu and spent the next 18-hours in the hotel in the bathroom.

I took pity on them and somehow found the energy and drove across the state to meet them in Granville at 2:30 PM. We immediately went to one of my prime pheasant fields and never saw a bird. Went to another, and lo and behold there was a rooster in the road! We jumped out, and unfortunately, I was the only one who scored. That was the extent of the upland hunting for all of us this trip but we did manage to take limits of ducks in several potholes that evening and the next afternoon before they left for Arkansas. Two of them even scored a couple geese Saturday afternoon as a bonus. I felt I had done my job and took care of my friends from Arkansas and another local man who was about to be sent off to South Korea (Army). We all had a great time and Chunk (my Yellow Lab) made some excellent retrieves on land and water.

They left at around 8 PM and I started on my way to Kenmare to meet, stay and hunt with new friends. It was snowing and I finally made it there around 10 PM. Met Bill Jansky and Bill Jansky, Sr., who are from Indiana and have been hunting in the Kenmare area for 15 years. They are the nicest couple of guys! They took me under their wings, provided a bed, decoys to hunt over, and fed me like I was at one of the finest restaurants in ND. I was never going to lose weight staying with these guys! Got to bed without my fan (that is another story) and we joined up with Scott Laullin and Jeff the next morning to hunt Mallards in the blowing snow and ice. While I saw flocks of ducks with the guys on Saturday, there were also tons of Mallards working this Pea field just outside Kenmare. However, they were decoy shy and we were only able to pull 7 or so out of a morning hunt. I also discovered the PowerHunter Blind was too small for me when I was dressed in my hunting attire. If I took a deep breathe, the Velcro would pop open which is not a great thing to discover in the field when there are hundreds of Mallards and the snow is blowing down your neck’

Got back to the house and took my first nap in ND! It felt so great that I did it again the next afternoon after an excellent hunt on a pothole where we limited (almost) on Mallards, Gadwalls, Pintails and BWT. Started to use a lead on my Chunk, as both Bill’s had well-trained Labs and I needed to get Chunk under control and get in line to retrieve. Never provide a long lead attached to a dog that has never been on one before and then attach it to your arm. NEVER! About lost my arm but he did learn quick, them went back for that great food and a nap.

As I had a Swan Permit and wanted to fill it as I had for the previous four years I needed to get after them and decided to hook up for a hunt with PorkChop, who is in the USAF and one HELL OF GUY! Met up with him and Stroeger and we set up for waterfowl. Talk about waterfowl! God, it was great and they let me shoot the first goose that came in with one shot and no one knows or cares here if it was a hen!! We had birds all over us that day and should have limited out on geese and ducks, but due to a variety of reasons, we didn’t - but had a GREAT TIME! No Swans but they did provide some suggestions and I set up later that afternoon but was only successful on ducks. Went back and hunted with the Jansky’s for Thursday and the birds just did not cooperate, so I went on my way towards Stanley in the late morning to try and find that elusive Swan south of Kenmare and north of Stanley. As I was driving around, I found where I had taken my Swan in 1999 by the K-7 missile site and almost ended up in a ravine due to the Jell-O consistency roads before I said to Heck with it and returned to drier fields elsewhere to take several ducks.

Still wanting that Swan, and not being able to get into the geese like I was dying for, I ended up getting together with Porkchop the last Friday morning. As I am cursed with, I was a little late meeting him, and called him from the edge of the field to say I was there. I swear I thought he said he was almost done (God Bless him) with setting out the decoys, so I simply got my gear together and waited. A little later, some latecomers started to try and setup in our field, so I hit them with a Spotlight until they moved over. After 30-minutes of waiting, I began to get concerned and called Porkchop again to see why he was waiting in the field. He said no, he wasn’t done and needed my help! Talk about feeling like a ‘heal’

Well, we got set up and had a good hunt but had to quit early due to prior commitments, and just before the birds started to move into the field. However, I was fortunate enough to watch several tornados of ducks descend into a small winter wheat field and wished I had brought my camera. It was still a great hunt and made so by the camaraderie of my new hunting friends. I ended up the day trying once again for that elusive Swan and other waterfowl. I stayed that night in Minot, as I wanted to be closer to my friends in Granville and the Swans that populated the area. Made it out early the next morning for some pass shooting and finally connected on a nice Snow Goose that folded but decided to regain itself as I swung on another bird, initially looked like he had a busted wing tip but he was able to rejoin the flock and make it to the WPA across the road. Gave it another couple of hours and made my way down to the water’s edge and it looked like the Snow was hanging next to the weeds across the water, so I hiked back and drove around to place myself near where I last saw him. Took Chunk down to the edge and he finally started to get birdy, when all of a sudden I hear this “honk” by where I parked the car and saw that this damn Snow had crawled through the weeds to the road and began flying away!!! Needless to say, I never touched a feather and the last I saw him, he was headed for Devils Lake!

I began to think my trip was over and decided to hit the local potholes until the Swans started to fly in the afternoon. Managed four ducks two were BWT and I was giving up around 6 PM when my friend showed up and asked me, “Did you get your Swan, to which I replied, “No” and he said, “Follow me.”

Without any further discussion, I got in my mudball, I mean car, and proceeded to follow him for about 20 minutes till we came upon a pothole that was covered in white! I couldn’t believe it. I had 15 minutes left and there were 300 Swans just 60 yards away from the road and the road was much lower than the pothole! I threw off my jacket and made sure I had a few shells before I headed on one of the easiest stalks I had ever made -much easier than the one I forgot to mention that I made around 1 PM that day only to get to the edge of the pothole and discover the Swans were still another 120 yards away. Here I have been driving, searching and hunting for Swans most of the week, and here they are just yards away and STAYING PUT! It took me all of 5-minutes to make it to the edge and peer through the reeds and saw that there were Swans within 20 yards of me and they were still holding.

Trying to be as sporting as one can be, I stood up and they began to fly off and away. I waited until this one was just into the air and busted him, breaking a wing. Reloaded (unfortunately, Steel BB’s) and proceeded to keep shooting at him on the water while all these birds (Tundra Swans, Snow geese, Canada geese and ducks of all types) were still taking off around me, with some even still trying to land near me. He proceeded to swim to the other side and I said let Chunk out. He made in seconds but took one look at the moving bird and said, “Say what?”

I was running out of time and decided to forge my way to the other side and ended up giving up walking through the reeds due to their density (Moses would never have been found if it had been like this back then) and grabbed a couple of #2’s before making it over to the other side. As I came close to where I had last saw him, he broke from the reeds and started to flap/swim back to the other side when I finally connected with the #2’s and put him down. Chunk saw this, and with the bird still flailing in the water, Chunk made a 60-yard retrieve and back to the reed’s edge where he left the damn bird. After fighting my way out to the Swan, I could see why it was thicker than snot! I grabbed the Swan and began my slow, laborious trek back to the field all with three-minutes to spare. It was some of the roughest walking I had even made, and it wasn’t any easier carrying a big Swan without waders on in water up to my nuts. I could only take five steps and rest before starting out for another five steps.

My good friend’s son, Randy Elliott was there waiting and took my gun and bird to help me out THANK GOD! His first words were congratulations on getting a banded bird. I said, sure before he showed me it was BANDED!!! I could have kissed him if he wasn’t bigger than me. What an end to a trip that started out with a lot of anxiety!!! I got to meet and hunt with A LOT of new friends, shoot a bunch of ducks, a couple of geese, eat like a pig, and took a BANDED Swan!! Life is good, regardless of the Cell and car issues.

We all made it back to Granville; I showered and prepped the car for the trip home, before leaving around 9 PM. It was difficult to say goodbye but I was on a high now and wanted to make Grand Forks before crashing for the night. However, I was thrown another curve when dense fog developed and when I made Grand Forks around 1 AM, I discovered the hockey game had taken ALL the hotel rooms. Here I was driving in pea soup fog and now had to drive another 90 miles to Fargo before I could sleep. I almost didn’t make it, as I was exhausted, scared of a deer ruining my trip, but made it to Fargo and was in my hotel bed at 4 AM after another long day! I was done and set out for home around 1 PM and arrived at 3 AM the next day.

It seems that every trip I make to ND is different. While I come up for the geese primarily, the last several years I have ended up getting into the ducks and upland game more often BUT I have ALWAYS BEEN BLESSED BY THE PEOPLE I HAVE MET AND SHARED TIME WITH. A big thank you goes out to Dan Levin, Bill (Jr. & Sr.) Jansky, Leo Porchello, Randy Elliott, Ron Elliott Jed Fluher, Tyler Ellenson, Zach Herman, Monte Herman and all the others I met and hunted with on this trip. Please forgive me if I have left anyone off but please know that you are ALWAYS welcome in my home and where I hunt here in Illinois. Thank you all and I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the coming months!!!

Monday, August 10, 2015

“Get the lid Greg”
By Bob Zettler
January 20, 2008

Where in the World is "Carmen" Zettler?

Niska. It was the last weekend of the Illinois duck season for the southern zone and I was prepared for whatever man, nature, God and the Devil might throw my way as I decided to start out early and head to Rend Lake on Friday morning. Instead of public hunting, we decided to take advantage of the hospitality at Niska Farms just outside Nason and adjacent to the refuge. 

Nick Shafer and I have a relationship with John Clark, the owner, and we decided to go after the geese rather than ducks for the morning. There was Nick, his partner in crime John Nolan, and a newbie who had never shot a goose yet, called “Hetty.” Not his real name but something he had been tagged with by some ladies as he was attending SIU-C. Why, we still do not know but I bet there is a story in there somewhere¦

Anyway, we set up an excellent spread of field decoys and had the entire club to ourselves while we waited on the birds in our luxurious Hill Pit. I even brought pastries and Nick had his two dogs who would be used to collect our bounty. As usual, the birds did not fly early and that provided us the time to chat and discuss the world economy situation as it relates to waterfowling - right! And then it came out, this Hetty was related by blood to our own drylock at the Refuge! Now that is a downright scary thought having another one of his ilk hunting next to me but I forged on after calling drylock to confirm and tease him about how good we were doing!

Anyway, the only thing that got harvested that morning was the pastries by Nick’s dogs, no wonder they were quiet, as the birds just did not fly like they did the day before where several had been taken and many more missed. Go figure as I was there now! However, we stuck it out till 1 PM and picked up as Nick had to get to work and I then spent some time with John Clark who is 75 years young to talk a little about Niska and waterfowling. 

Springfield. All too soon I was on the road and headed home but man was I tired! Too many miles and too little sleep were taking its toll on me and I did not get into the Springfield area until nearly 6 PM where I was headed to bed ASAP and that is where I learned I had to pick up my daughter from work after 9 PM. Crap! As I could tell how beat I was and that losing another four hours of sleep was in the offing, I called Billy Melvin and Greg Masterson that I would not be able to make it down there in time for Saturday morning. I had an invite from Greg Masterson to come down for some time but we just never established a date or time and Billy was still trying to get me that Bull Can or Sprig or any doggone duck that was still in the area! 

Anyway, Billy said to call when I got in the area and I could join up with them. I had planned on getting there around 7 AM but as my luck would have it that was the time I woke up in bed! Talk about refreshed and relaxed! Took a quick shower and headed on down the road knowing I could join with Billy for a hunt for that morning if he was still out or that afternoon if they hadn’t limited. Greg was on hold as we hadn’t been able to talk directly yet and that Olive Branch is WAY down there!

Macoupin County. On my way down I-55 I started to see some wisps of smoke on the horizon in front of me as I approached as area we hunt but as I drew closer that smoke turned into flocks of SOB’s! My God there was a line of SOB’s stretching from east of the Interstate all the way to the horizon in the west so I decided to pull off and watch the show. This procession continued for at least another 20 minutes while I called my hunting buddies to inform them of how our fields were most likely getting covered with geese. 

Heck, I even saw the Canada geese start dropping right into the same field we hunted in on New Year’s Eve day and did they drop! It wasn’t one of those a flock here and a flock there but it was as if the ground had sprung a leak and a flood of grey crude was spreading out from a central hole! These dark geese continued to simply drop in and huddle together to feed in this spot which grew in diameter every minute to the point I was considering jumping out and over the fence with my shotgun and a few dekes to bag an easy limit but I had people waiting¦

And then a single Snow dropped in and it was if the recess bell had rung as now the SOB’s started to drop into the grey pool and taking over. No wonder the Tundra is in danger for the Canada geese!

Nashville. After nearly 30 minutes I had to get going again and eventually reached Nashville (Illinois) where I stopped again for a coveted Mocha Latte from the DQ; which just happened to be having a half-price sale! My kind of people! So, while I was snug and warm in my van with an ice cold drink, I decided to call Billy to see if I could still join him but discovered they had already quit for the morning and were headed home to warm up. No big deal but I was starting to think about calling someone to start a thread in the Carmen Sandiego vein of, “Where in the world is Zettler now”, but forged on in hopes of still hunting with Greg down at his club in Olive Branch.

Jackson County. I then made another couple of quick stops in Murphysboro and Carbondale before getting on Route 51 southbound. Now I hadn’t been on Route 51 in years and was amazed at all the new homes, better road conditions and the like, all ensconced in some beautiful southern Illinois countryside. Sure, it was still cold outside but the sun was shining and the ride was enjoyable as compared to all my usual early morning or evening drives the past few months in the dark while I traveled to and from hunting locations. And here I was in a comfortable new used mini-van going up and down the rolling countryside’s hills when I realized I was a tad over the limit so I began to let off the pedal only to see a State trooper headed northbound slam on his brakes and flip on his lights. Que sera!

Makanda. I was pulled over before he even got turned around and waited on him with the window open and my hands in plain sight - experience from my rebel rousing days - and greeted him with the statement that I knew I had been speeding but had been slowing down just before I spotted him as I had just crested a hill. I asked him how fast he had me as I am sure he would have seen I was slowing down but was shocked to learn he had clocked on me at 73 MPH. Yep, ole Zett’s was speeding but my speedometer had said 66 or so when I caught it and before he turned on his lights. We talked for a minute and I exclaimed that I knew I was wrong and just wasn’t use to the conditions. Now here is where it takes a different turn, after he asks if I had any recent tickets and I respond it has been a long, long time he says that he is inclined to issue me a warning! Hold it! This is me, the Dark Cloud who done the dirty deed and I am in SOUTHERN ILLINOIS with a STATE TROOPER!! How can I be so lucky????

He disappears to check me out on-line and comes back five minutes later with a WARNING TICKET for going 64 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. I gotta buy a lottery ticket!!!! He was very nice about it and we talked for another couple of minutes before I realized I better shut up or he might rethink his position and throw me in the hoosegow with Bubba! Wow! All I can say is wow as State Troopers are not known for leniency and I just got lucky. Many thanks to this trooper!

Olive Branch. As I approach Olive Branch, I realize I still do not know where Greg’s club is located and cannot raise him on the telephone so I call Gimp Hunter. Norm provides directions and of course I drive right on by and only realize it when I am a mile past Worthington’s club - a club that 20 years ago would tell you to leave if you shot at a duck when there were geese around. Anyway, I go back and stop at the Southern Aire to ask directions and realize this is the spot!  They get Greg on the radio and tell me to get ready. Well, you don’t have to tell me twice so I throw on my camo, waders and get my blind bag and gun. Herman comes over and has me get in his car for the drive over to the pit. It wasn’t far but it was in an area that I had never been to down at Olive Branch. You see I use to hunt geese down there starting back in the late 1970’s all the way through 1990 but that ended when I got hooked on North Dakota and thought I had money. And I did still have another connection down there as my former mother-in-law was born and raised there but I could never recall her maiden name!

But I digress as usual.

Now many know that southern Illinois has some of the most beautiful scenery, what with the aforementioned rolling hills, and then the waterways, forests and quaint hamlets scattered throughout the hidden valleys and hideaways but it is also some of the poorest country this side of Appalachia! Don’t get me wrong but per capita is some of the lowest in Illinois down there and Alexander County “persons living below poverty in 2004 was 23.8%.And losing the distinction of being the Goose Capital of the World back in the 1990s has had a profound impact on the people and businesses down there what with the northern shifts in goose migration and where hunters now go to harvest a Honker. 

But having said that, some have realized that there was a little silver lining in that Dark Cloud by virtue of the value of the ducks that continued to migrate south. Sure, they too can get short-stopped when the winter weather stays mild and there are plenty of warm water spots for them to linger around and on. But for the most part, what with the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meeting right there and the presence of the Cache River continuing to increase its influence every season, you have a duck hunters dream!

There is flooded timber galore and now the landowners have adapted to our evolving waterfowling world by working the lands for ducks primarily, instead of geese. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still geese migrating in but not always like they did. Yet, even that dynamic is changing. You see, some people like Greg 
Masterson have been trying to imprint Canada geese into the area every year now for some time. In addition, and this is something most Illinois waterfowlers already know, is that the Snow and Blue goose have invaded southern Illinois too! What began as a few here and there back in the early 1990’s has exploded into 100’s of thousands of those SOB’s flowing throughout the state  many times taking over large tracts of refuge lands originally established for the Canada goose. Those poor Canada’s just can’t get a break, first they start losing their nesting habitat and now they are plagued by these noisy interlopers the length and run of their migratory path too!

And while there are still goose hunting clubs, leases and the like throughout Alexander, Union, Williamson and Jackson Counties, it looks to me that hidden away in Alexander are a bunch of duck hunting opportunities  and I mean a bunch! And when you see Big Money people move in and establish a place here and there for themselves where the sole purpose is to kill ducks for themselves, friends and clients, then you know you’re on to something. For when I heard how much some of the land was going for in what used to be some of the cheapest land you could find this side of a toxic waste site, you realize that maybe they have turned a corner!

Once again, I digress!

Back to hunting. Herman drives me down a paved back road to an entrance into the woods where you can begin to see some flooded crops scattered throughout, a number of vehicles  some high dollar and others held together by the rust they have earned over the years and ducks. Not just a couple of ducks but a BUNCH of ducks! Shangri-La, we have arrived!!!

I get my waders on as I did not bring any hip boots, grab my blind bag and cased shotgun and head on down the path to where Greg 
Masterson and Dave, his client, are standing in a concrete pit. It is maybe 100 yards away but I stop halfway when I see they have left their gun case on the path. As I start to uncase mine and yell to ask if I needed to just bring shells as it is only a three-man pit, a voice 20 yards responds that those are his and I should just go ahead to the pit! WTH? I learn later that it seems Greg has thrown out a friend of his to make room for me but I just thought it was another hunter waiting in the wings for when one of us kills out, so I go ahead and make my way to the temple! I mean, the pit.

This spot has water in front, to the west and behind, with the dozen decoys set behind us and one Robo just spinning inches above the waterline. There are hunters in pits all around us but separated by tree lines and maybe twice the distance you would find elsewhere which improves the hunting in my opinion. Introductions are made and I climb in with Greg in the middle to call the shots. Inside the pit were chairs and concrete blocks to step up on to shoot. The lids were heavy-duty wire fence with green willow branches intertwined so you could look through but provide a break-up to hide us below. There were three lids and they opened with the hinge behind us. I likee!

This is Dave’s first duck hunt but he had been hunting geese for years up in the Northern Zone where they would just come in droves in response to your calling and location. As a matter of fact, that is how Dave and Greg had met when Greg was guiding up there this past season. It was after a hunt where Greg enticed those Canada geese right down on top of Dave and the rest of the hunters so sweetly with one of Masterson’s calls that when Dave learned his name, he was thrown for a loop. You see Dave had heard of and watched Greg hunting on videos in the past and knew of his abilities and talents (hunting that is) but was shocked to actually meet him and hunt with him up in the Chicago area no less! And since Dave had never hunted ducks, and since Greg not only makes and sells calls, he also offers some of the best opportunities to harvest a variety of waterfowl, Dave knew he had to come on down to hunt with one of the best.

As I was a guest, I made the decision to only shoot after Dave and it wasn’t long before he and I had my first opportunity; actually, it was as soon as I made it to the pit! With a cloudless blue sky and a bright sun in our faces, I was having difficulty spotting the ducks before they were right there in front but Greg wanted them in your face so he would work them with his own Greg 
Masterson duck call till they were locked up, feet down and almost in the water. With the decoys behind us and the woods with the pathway I walked to the pit on my side, the open water on Dave’s side seemed to be more inviting as these green-headed Mallards were all coming to the call right in front of and to the right of Dave who was on the west side of the blind. That is okay as once he shoots then I will unload because Greg isn’t even loaded! Heh! Heh!

That first duck drops right in on Dave and Greg calls the shot, even raising all three lids for us to make the kill easier. We rise and after a couple of seconds Dave shoots, shoots again and then that Drake Mallard is clawing his way out of there so I pull up on him just as he puts himself between me and the bright, shining Sun! Now I have to wait a second or two and I miss, miss and miss. WTH! Must be the excitement from the drive down and having Mallards right in our faces that caused us to miss. Yeah, that has to be it. Now, this same scene is repeated again and again to the point I am seriously wondering what is wrong with my shotgun, choke, shotshells, and of course ME! No one else concerns me as I am the one missing shots at Mallard drakes well within range. 

Sure, I am waiting on Dave to shoot first and he is a little slow getting on the ducks. 

Sure, that when I get my chance I have to wait till they are either in front or behind and not over the other hunters so I will not ring their ears. 

Sure, that nine out of 10 times (or at least that percentage) I am shooting at Mallard Drakes as they are beating wings and webbed feet out of there a number of seconds AFTER the lids are opened, Dave takes his shot(s) and I can now take a shot without future impairment of my pit partners. 

Sure, 8 out of those same 10 opportunities that when I do get the chance to pull the trigger it is only AFTER the Mallard Drake has cleared the ever-present Sun in my eyes.

But what in the name of Sam Hill is going on that I am hitting about a fifth of what I shoot at only to see them make it over to the next harvest hole opportunity where someone else brings them to bag!!!!

Unfortunately, I am shooting Winchester HV 3” shotshells in the BB configuration when I should be shooting my regular #2’s but I grabbed the wrong box AND had taken all the 3” #2’s out of my blind bag just the night before where I left them at home. As a matter of fact, all I had were BB’s in 3” and 3 ½ shotshells, except for a couple of boxes of Remington Wingmaster HD 3” #4’s and I use those for geese! Now I look over and find that Dave is using the same Remington Wingmaster HD 3” #4s and he hasnt touched a feather while I had been there. And since he got there around 11 AM, it appears from the number of shells he has unleashed so far that they were not the answer except to the shareholders of Remington Ammunition stock!

Now Greg was patient and kept reminding us that it was okay and we had not seen anything yet (duck wise) but our shooting was getting so bad that even he decided to load up in order to assist at least on the cripples. However, Greg seems to be more frugal than me and after he pulled some shotshells out of his pocket, I watched as he began to scratch the rust off of them! He wouldn’t take any shells from me even though I had plenty as he was steadfast in seeing Dave got his first duck and that we as a crew would eventually take our limits. Maybe so but now I was not only embarrassed but concerned that I would ever connect, as these numbers of working Mallards could not continue to provide us with so many opportunities even though we had two hours or so left in the day!

I was really railing at myself over my not being able to connect. No, I did not ridicule Dave as he had to deal with a totally different set of circumstances too: he had never hunted ducks; he had never hunted out of pit like this; he had the sun to deal with too, and; he had to feel peer pressure from all of us and that poor guy lying out in the woods watching all of this unfold! I understood all of this but it didn’t make it easier for me as I was flat out missing close and many times easy shots at big, fat Mallard Drakes. Now I hope Dave did not do this because he felt I was upset with him, as there was no reason to be upset with him, but he offered to switch ends with me in an attempt to maybe change our luck. Yes, he had heard that one of my nicknames was Dark Cloud but I think he did it out of compassion and sharing, two traits not always found when people are hunting waterfowl.

By now I had convinced Greg to take some of my shells as after how many rounds (sign of embarrassment) we still did not have a duck of our own on the water, so he stood ready to back me up now. It didn’t take long before he dropped a nice Drake Mallard off of my end and when the shot was called - BOOM! I got the stink off! Call it skill. Call it luck. Call it “about damn time”! Whatever the case, we finally had one down and it was killing time again! Now for the most part, if the ducks were anywhere in front, behind or on Dave’s side, we let him shoot first and for whatever reason he connected all by himself and it was another nice, big Greenhead Mallard. No bands for his first trophy but a memorable bird nonetheless!

Pretty soon we all had a number of Greenheads down and then we see one winging its way towards us from the distance but out in front. Now we are all hunkered down with Greg balancing his lid on his head as he watched and called at the lone duck. And he knows along with a lot of people of my desire to finally connect on a Bull Canvasback or Sprig (Pintail), so when he said this one was a Sprig I loudly said, “Right you jerk”! But then a couple of seconds later as this lone duck passes in front I see that tell-tail sign of his tail feather spike and it is as if a wall of stone falls over me. Some might call it “the zone”, or others might refer to it going snake-eyed”. But whatever it was I was now as one with the world. There was nothing but me with my shotgun and that Drake Sprig. Nothing at all but that lid residing just over my head that up until now I had tried to assist Greg in opening each and every time so as to be a participant and not someone just watching. So when that Sprig was dropping into the water right out in front on my side and I decided to call the shot I said in a dead-serious voice that would have stopped a bar fight in progress, “Get the lid Greg”, he obliged.

I raised as if one with the world. I felt nothing as I shouldered my gun and released the safety placing the plane of the barrel right on that Sprig who was just becoming aware of my presence. I pulled the trigger without concern, fear or anxieties even though I had forgotten three times already that afternoon to either reload or chamber a shell. He was right there starting to climb upwards and out of there when the blast broke through the air between the two of us and then I saw it. I saw the pellets impact him right in the chest and he begin to fall as if his batteries had just died. No puff of feathers. No body parts flying or torn asunder. Just him falling belly up into the water right in front of the pit on my side about 15 yards away. His webbed feet giving a kick or two before the hounds of Hell erupted from inside the pit as I burst apart with 20+ years of pent up frustration of not being able to successfully kill a Bull Sprig on my own in Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas. The content and context of my screams were primeval in nature mixed in with profanities that most would consider fighting words and were sure to halt the Mighty Ohio and Mississippi Rivers flow for the time they reverberated southward out of Olive Branch and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. They might even be passing Venus right now and you can expect a flare of unusual sun spots next week as they tear into the sun itself.

Yes, I was happy. No, I was more than happy, I was ecstatic. And after punching the walls of the pit with my fists of joy and even my head I turned to look at the ashen faces of Greg and Dave who were looking for either an escape route or my return to sanity but we were interrupted by the radio asking if everyone was all right and if we needed an ambulance. No, the only body bag that day was reserved for that Bull Sprig as he lied peacefully on his back just yards away from the lucky and extremely happy hunter who just punched his ticket. And even though I left him out there for a little while which provided Greg the opportunity to tease me with questioning of where that Sprig had disappeared to I knew that no matter what happened the rest of the day or night, nothing could match what I just experienced! Nothing at all!

We ended up with seven Mallards and my Bull Sprig that I retrieved myself from out there in the ice. And it was so cold that it still had a piece of ice stuck to him as I cradled, yes, that is correct, I cradled that bird back to the pit when we quit early to let the ducks back in for the end of the season hunt I looked forward to the next day - Sunday, January 20. And as we took pictures and exchanged pleasantries and reviewed the time together, all I could do was see that series of mental pictures in my mind over and over again of that Bull Sprig as he cupped in front of me, the shot hitting him and how he laid there in the icy water not moving. It was a great feeling and one that will live with me forever I hope. Where I spent time with a master call maker, caller, waterfowler and a new inductee to duck hunting in a little place outside Olive Branch. A place that a decade before was reeling from the losses of absent Canada geese but has now established itself as a duck hunting Mecca for people who are experienced and those who are not. It has been a season of new and old for me. I have met and hunted with a lot of new people at new places but I have also hunted old places with old friends and one Heck of a mix of old and new. And while my primary mission this trip had been to close out the season with Greg duck hunting I had accomplished so much more!


We made it back to the club house where I was introduced to not only Don 
Masterson, Greg’s Father, but a whole bunch of people who live and work down there. The libations began and dinner was soon being served after we were joined by others including Ko-Ko’s owners who were nice enough to bring me a bottle of Seagram’s Seven I ordered so we wouldn’t run out when Greg’s half-gallon went empty. The menu was an excellent Italian Beef made from deer meat, garnish, chips and some fabulous baked beans as provided by Herman’s wife.

It was quite the group but one thing ran true through them, they were either from the Olive Branch area or were passionate waterfowlers. And even before people had finished dinner, the table was cleared for a friendly game of poker where no one tried to screw one another or backbite anyone but people enjoying each other’s company and having a good time. Not much was spent as the poker stakes were kept to $5 or $10 and the food prepared or provided by everyone I helped with the Seagram’s and Coke. 

And as we relaxed and savored the day - and even the season - stories were told and shared amongst ourselves. Stories about each other and of those who are no longer with us. No loud voices raised in anger or intimidation, just good people having a good time. And as the hour grew late and the alcohol was definitely warming our cockles, Greg, Kyle and I decided to get some more ice from Ko-Ko’s. Kyle drove as I was already in no shape to be behind the wheel and we decided to have another drink or two there. For a Saturday night it wasn’t too crowded and that was okay with me since we could get to know each other better and continue to savor life in general. As I learned that Greg was quite the Babe Magnet, we were soon joined by an attractive woman, but we then decided to follow her to another bar called Decoy’s. 

Now this place was hopping but here I was still in my hunting clothes - with sweat pants instead of jeans. Yet, I didn’t seem to care and never even thought of it till now. And as the drinks continued to arrive at the table from where I was not sure.

I could afford as I had not brought but $40 since I came to hunt and never thought about partying and it was almost gone.  I continued to melt into the woodwork or whatever. And even though there wasn’t a McDonald’s there, I seem to recall going outside to the porch and watering the rails without a care in the world several times before someone decided to show me they had indoor plumbing and then drive back to the clubhouse with the ice we went for hours before. 

As Kyle was driving, I took the backseat and almost sobered up on the way back when he hit 110 MPH on some blacktop. Yes, he was Mario Andretti in his Volkswagen whatever and the only thought I had was please God, keep the deer away!

Things get hazy here as I knew we didn’t have to go out hunting till around 10 or 11 AM that morning and I knew I was staying here and not at a hotel in the Cape or locally, it is just that I am not sure what all went on between Le Mans and the bed I found myself fully-clothed right there in the clubhouse and all alone. I do recall the one married couple (Billy and Amy) deciding to come to bed too and how worried I was when he informed his wife how he was going to ravage her. Why? I thought they were going to use the bed I was in!!! Luckily they went one bed over and as I listened for the sound of clothes being ripped off one another and the tell-tale screams of ecstasy or pain, I was greeted almost immediately with the loud snoring of someone with a built-in amplifier! I threw myself out of bed, walked outside barefooted in the 10 degree night air and brought my electric box fan inside so I could try and block the sounds of Paul Bunyan sawing logs two-foot away.

The next thing I knew it was just before 7 AM and sunlight was creeping through the windows. So much light! And while I was prone, my head did not hurt but my bladder was full and every now and then you heard someone in the other rooms. Finally, someone made breakfast which was bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy so I had to get up for a while at least. But as soon as I was done, we all retired to our respective sleeping areas. 

Now I kept waiting on someone to roust me and the others to go hunting and when Dave showed up I heard Greg send him out with ___, so I wasn’t in a hurry since I knew deep down I was going to regret last night. So, I would get up for a few minutes and then back to bed when I saw Greg and Kyle sacked out. And when Kyle went outside to barf, I knew I had been out with giants but we were all simply human at heart. And I have to tell you, eating bacon and gravy when you are hung-over are not two items I would recommend. Yes, they were great going down but mixed with the “stuff” fermenting in my digestive track, I continued to burp and feel like, well, you know, all day long.

And around 2 PM, Kyle decided to head back to Paducah where he will most likely be babied by one of the women who sent him erotic text messages complete with pictures the night before but he wanted to drive around Horseshoe first so I went along. Big mistake! Up until now my head and body had been lulled into believing it was going to be alright - WRONG!!! For as soon as we arrived at the area we had hunted the afternoon before and now saw that all had frozen over  Dan and his guide had only killed one Green Wing teal so far and they had been out three hours  it all started to rock and roll. The 800 MG of Ibuprofen was having no impact and I openly wished we had a bottle of Oxygen on hand like what we used in the USAF to clear the cobwebs. However, as we drove through the area and along the Horseshoe Lake Refuge, we saw ducks and geese all over just resting among the cypress or out in the fields. We even saw a number of cripples and dead ones with one Snow taking off right beside the truck that I probably could have caught it if I had tried!

As we drove through the area I reflected on the people I had spent time with over the last couple of days and all that we had talked about, places we went and things that we did…at least what I could remember. It had been another nostalgic trip down memory lane and one that opened new doors for me and maybe those I met. I watched a Father and son enjoy their company and of their friends. I saw more ducks that I can recall all season from an area that I only looked for geese from during a past life. And while I am sure I talked too much, I also listened. I listened to people, nature and to life as lived in Southern Illinois. A place so removed from the hustle and bustle of Springfield, Chicago and St. Louis, and even places like Mt. Vernon, Vandalia and Peoria where people can live and enjoy life even when it throws them curveballs, sliders and even beaners. That maintains its own culture but still lets others inside if not forever but at least for a taste that will bring most of us back again and again. Good people. Good times. Great opportunities!

Anyway, Kyle dropped me off and after talking with Greg, and I decided to hit the road as neither of us was in any shape to go out there.  And so for us the season ended a day early and for a change, which was more than alright with me! After all, how could I top my Bull Sprig! Well, there is that Bull Can I am after too!