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Great Stories From Field & Stream Writers: 'My Higher Calling' by Phil Bourjaily

Let’s be honest: I can blow a duck call until help arrives and that’s about it. But in one small corner of North Dakota, I am a legend.

Years ago, Winchester invited me and 29 other writers to Bismarck for the introduction of a new semiauto shotgun. Every morning, they split us into threes and fours and scattered us across the state to hunt with guides and locals. One foggy morning found three of us spread out along a brushy fenceline shooting Canada geese. Our guides were four carpet layers who loved to hunt honkers but for whatever reason never shot ducks.

In fact, these guys had never even heard a duck call. When I broke out mine to work a flock of mallards that appeared out of the gloom over the decoys, they were amazed. I don’t know if they were more surprised that I could talk to ducks or that anyone would want to.

Those mallards circled and circled in range but never quite committed, and we let them go. The geese, on the other hand, decoyed perfectly that morning. I shot a limit and then sat at the edge of the field enjoying the hunt, done shooting but with my gun still loaded in case the mallards returned.

The head carpet layer came over.

“You can shoot my limit if you want,” he said.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m done.”

“I want you to shoot my birds.”

“That’s O.K.,” I said. “Three is enough for me.” I don’t party shoot. I’m stuffy about it, perhaps to a fault.

“No. Shoot my limit.”

Pretty soon we were standing up, arguing. It wasn’t quite heated but it was weird. Neither of us was backing down. Finally I said, “Look, this has been great. I killed a limit of geese. I’m happy. What I want to do now is shoot a duck.”

As if on cue we heard the faint quack of a mallard hen looking for company in the fog. I blew a little hail call. You could hear the poor duck’s quacks grow louder as she turned our way, thinking she’d found a friend. Right over our heads, the mallard flew out of the fog. I raised my gun, and the bird tumbled to our feet. Taking half a step, I picked it up.

The head carpet layer stared at me like I was a witch.

“There,” I said. “I’ve shot a duck. Now I can go home.”

Click here for more great untold stories from Field & Stream writers and photographers.

Comments (15)

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from vasportsman wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Hahaha, awesome Phil, way to make a point!

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Wish it had been a greenhead, and you gave the old guy the call of the lonesome hen, but a great story.

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from blevenson wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

I being an equal opportunity duck shooter don't turn down a shot at a hen. Drake obsession these days has become almost as bad as shooting only monster bucks. What happened to hunting for meat for the table or has it just become a competition on who can shoot the most drakes and biggest bucks?

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

bleverson..For one, my story ending sounded better. Can you blow the call of the lonesome hen? Two, where I hunt, shoot a couple of hens, and you are done for the day, and you are allowed a limit of seven. It behoves one to ID their ducks. But you are right, there is nothing wrong with shooting a hen.

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Appears blevenson doesn't know the bag regulations, or can blow the sound of the lonesome hen.

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from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

I thought about changing the duck to a greenhead to make the story better,but I wanted to tell it exactly as it happened. The story as I told it is 100% true.

If it had been a greenhead, I would have called to it with drake grunts.

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Drake grunts? Now that is a kinky call that I've never heard of before. :) I assumed you told a true story Phil. I had to stand up in front of a classroom full of my peers, and make the "call of the lonesome hen" in a duck calling class a long time ago. I envisioned your call being just that, and that green head comin in, but Drake grunts? How ducks have evolved.

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from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Clinchnot -- that soft, nasal "dweek" sound drakes make when they try to quack? I was calling it a "grunt" here because I thought that was the correct term but when I'm hunting with my friends we call them "dweeks"

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Goctcha, and a good one to make when ducks are close, and heading in. I had to learn the "comeback call" the "High ball" "feeding call", and the "lonesome hen call"...the drake grunts would have been a good one as well. Ever hear of Harry Dye? That's who I took the class from. Harry also had produced his "Dye-calls" that I bought several of...a brass read call with a great sound just slightly harder to call. Harry had DyeCoys, DyeCoy weights. He was tied in with Mardon Resort near O'Sullivan Dam on Moses Lake?..or Banks Lake? I worked with a guy that F & S, in an interview with ??(the Olympic trap champion from WA St.) was asked "who was the best waterfowl shot you ever knew of?...and he answered Mike Fontana. Mike worked with Harry Dye, and was a waterfowl guide working out of Mardon Resort, and guided in what we called the "Potholes"

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Just thought of the Olympic Champion's name...Matt Dryke. There was another Olmpian outside of Seattle, a longer name, and can't think of his name right now..?

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Satterwaite? Sounds like I am close to that other top shotgunner's name.

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from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Might have been John Satterwhite.

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from clinchknot wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

No might about it, that was the shooter. Like a lot of names anymore, I came close.

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from usahuntingblinds wrote 1 year 4 weeks ago

That is awesome! Can't go wrong with a drake caller.

www.usahuntingblinds.com

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from d2jlking wrote 47 weeks 2 days ago

hilarious story. Thanks for the laugh.

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from vasportsman wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Hahaha, awesome Phil, way to make a point!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Wish it had been a greenhead, and you gave the old guy the call of the lonesome hen, but a great story.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from blevenson wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

I being an equal opportunity duck shooter don't turn down a shot at a hen. Drake obsession these days has become almost as bad as shooting only monster bucks. What happened to hunting for meat for the table or has it just become a competition on who can shoot the most drakes and biggest bucks?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

bleverson..For one, my story ending sounded better. Can you blow the call of the lonesome hen? Two, where I hunt, shoot a couple of hens, and you are done for the day, and you are allowed a limit of seven. It behoves one to ID their ducks. But you are right, there is nothing wrong with shooting a hen.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Appears blevenson doesn't know the bag regulations, or can blow the sound of the lonesome hen.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

I thought about changing the duck to a greenhead to make the story better,but I wanted to tell it exactly as it happened. The story as I told it is 100% true.

If it had been a greenhead, I would have called to it with drake grunts.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Drake grunts? Now that is a kinky call that I've never heard of before. :) I assumed you told a true story Phil. I had to stand up in front of a classroom full of my peers, and make the "call of the lonesome hen" in a duck calling class a long time ago. I envisioned your call being just that, and that green head comin in, but Drake grunts? How ducks have evolved.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Clinchnot -- that soft, nasal "dweek" sound drakes make when they try to quack? I was calling it a "grunt" here because I thought that was the correct term but when I'm hunting with my friends we call them "dweeks"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Goctcha, and a good one to make when ducks are close, and heading in. I had to learn the "comeback call" the "High ball" "feeding call", and the "lonesome hen call"...the drake grunts would have been a good one as well. Ever hear of Harry Dye? That's who I took the class from. Harry also had produced his "Dye-calls" that I bought several of...a brass read call with a great sound just slightly harder to call. Harry had DyeCoys, DyeCoy weights. He was tied in with Mardon Resort near O'Sullivan Dam on Moses Lake?..or Banks Lake? I worked with a guy that F & S, in an interview with ??(the Olympic trap champion from WA St.) was asked "who was the best waterfowl shot you ever knew of?...and he answered Mike Fontana. Mike worked with Harry Dye, and was a waterfowl guide working out of Mardon Resort, and guided in what we called the "Potholes"

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Just thought of the Olympic Champion's name...Matt Dryke. There was another Olmpian outside of Seattle, a longer name, and can't think of his name right now..?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 9 weeks ago

Satterwaite? Sounds like I am close to that other top shotgunner's name.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

Might have been John Satterwhite.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from clinchknot wrote 1 year 8 weeks ago

No might about it, that was the shooter. Like a lot of names anymore, I came close.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from usahuntingblinds wrote 1 year 4 weeks ago

That is awesome! Can't go wrong with a drake caller.

www.usahuntingblinds.com

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from d2jlking wrote 47 weeks 2 days ago

hilarious story. Thanks for the laugh.

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