I-Robot: A Legendary Duck

| April 1, 2011 | 0 Comments
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Lou Leitão

Lou Leitão

Lou hunts at the McKenzie Ranch, a working cattle ranch that is owned by old Bob McKenzie and the ranch has been in Bob’s family since the late 1800’s. One day Lou spotted a pond on the ranch from the highway he was driving down after dove shooting in the area and he knew it would be a great place to duck hunt. He just went up and knocked on Bob’s door and asked him if he could hunt there. Bob looked him over and must have seen the sincerity and passion for the hunt in Lou’s eyes and agreed. Lou has been hunting there for the last 10 years. Legend has it that the Cabelas located just over the border in Nebraska had offered Bob big bucks to use the pond but Bob turned them down.

A great story is like a fine wine – it takes time and patience for it to come into its full flavor. A great story needs time for the facts to blur and new richness and tones to come out after being told many times. If it is a truly great story it becomes legend and is handed down through the ages for all to relive the tale.

This is one of those legendary hunting stories that started innocently enough on the opening weekend of duck season in 2007. I had flown out from Seattle, Washington, to Denver, Colorado, to meet my older brother, Lou, for what he said was some of the finest duck hunting in Colorado.

Our first day hunting was warm and uneventful. No ducks. The only thing that was flying were some jokes and stories of hunting adventures past. It was just too warm for duck hunting so we knocked off early and Lou showed me around the ranch. We had dinner in town and settled into our hotel room anticipating a better hunt tomorrow.

The next day broke similar to the previous one. Glorious blue sky and warm weather on the way. Fortunately duck hunting isn’t only about shooting ducks. A lot of it is just hanging out with folks you like and passing the time. As the sun rose there was a sight breeze and we saw some ducks flying in the distance. Maybe things were picking up. Unfortunately no ducks came very close and finally, out of a little frustration, Lou took a shot at a high flyer over our blind and knocked it down. It came down like a stone and hit the ground 10 feet from our blind. April (Lou’s Labrador and long-time hunting buddy) looked at me and I could tell she wanted me to go get it as this retrieve was hardly worth her skill. We were already packing up to go see if we could jump shoot some ducks so I obliged her and went and got the duck. The Wigeon had hit so hard that its insides were now outside which caught me a little off guard but as they say “gravity kills”. We finished packing up and I looked across the plate of glass that was our pond and wondered when the hunting would start!

Lou drove us around to a little slough and we quietly got out of the truck with April trailing quietly behind. Lou said there were usually some ducks in this spot. We reached a fence line just before the slough and were crouched low hiding from any potential ducks. When we peeked over the barbed wire and tall grass, five drake Mallards jumped up and Lou and I took aim. We each knocked down one. His on the left and mine on the right. Mine was crippled and began waddling away into a heavy grass area across the slough. Lou sent April and me to retrieve his bird which she picked up and returned to hand without any trouble. Lou was afraid my cripple was going to get lost in the deep grass at the other end of the slough so he went out and started searching for the duck. As soon as April retrieved Lou’s duck to me I sent her to help him find my bird. Within a couple of minutes April came trotting back to me with a duck in her mouth. I immediately saw there was a band on the bird and thought “this is awesome”. When she handed me the bird I felt something strange protruding from the back of the duck;  I immediately had a flashback to the previous duck with the insides coming out but this felt different. I turned the bird over and there was an antenna attached to it! I yelled to Lou to come over and check this out. He was just as amazed as me.

Then it hit me. For those of you who don’t know Lou, he loves to play practical jokes – mainly because he gets a good laugh out of them.Lou had brought me to his “special” spot where he said “there are always ducks here”. I just happen to hit a duck with an antenna on its back. Lou must have planted robot ducks in this spot that only flushed on when he activiated his remote control. Then the ducks played dead for the hunters when April returned them. She was supposed to retrieve it to Lou so he could get the little backpack off before I could see it! The band was just to make it seem extra special for me. I thought, “What a great concept for guided hunts. Remote control ducks for clients. It doesn’t matter if the client is a good shot or bad shot. Press a button and down goes the duck!” Lou and I joked about the remote control duck idea on the way home from our hunt and even stopped at a friend’s house to get some pictures snapped with an RC car control to add to the story. This is what hunting is all about!

But seriously, I had just shot a banded duck with a GPS system on its back. We knew this was a very special Mallard and wanted to get back home so we could figure out what was going on with this bird. We also made a decision that this bird needed to be mounted – backpack and all! Lou said he had a great taxidermist who could help us out. What started out as a slow birdless hunt trip, turned out to be one of the most exciting hunts I had ever been on!

Turns out the duck was part of a Colorado Division of Wildlife study on Mallard Behavioral Response to Hunting Disturbance and Winter Survival. Unfortunately for the research team our Mallard had only been banded and furnished with his GPS system two weeks earlier. We got to speak with Joshua Dooley who was heading up the research effort and he said we could keep the GPS system.

The Mallard sits in a respected spot in our family room. Always on approach to a nice pond. It reminds me of the great adventure I had hunting with my brother and the fun we had winding a tale about robotic ducks in Colorado!

Category : Hunting

About the Author ()

I am one of the founders and editor of Retriever Life. My passion is Labradors of all sizes and shapes but I am a big fan of all the retriever breeds.

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