Sharing the Blind

Chris JenningsEvery year someone shares with me a story about a longtime hunting partner who can no longer make it to the blind on opening day. That particular someone has either passed away or physically cannot make the strenuous trip into and out of the field. There is always one person you wish could be there, sitting next to you when the ducks drop from the sky. The moment before calling a shot, you miss their beaming smile of appreciation for all that surrounds them. For me, this would have to be my grandfather Joe, who I’ve never even met.

At the age of 8, I was well versed in fishing and hunting tactics, though my fishing experience was from one dock and a few scattered strip pits in Indiana, and my hunting knowledge was limited to stories of squirrel and deer hunts told around campfires by old men who were convinced my father’s generation were going to be the end of it all. These outdoor adventures became so attractive that I mimicked them and relived them in my mind, walking through the woods searching for quarry, practicing keeping my eyes sharp and my ears open. Obviously, that was the key to hunting, I was told by one old man, who then laughed and reached for another Pabst Blue Ribbon.

cjSharingBlind1One day when I was 11, my grandmother showed me pictures of my grandfather who had passed away in 1977. He was posing with a mule deer that had a rack resembling a Christmas tree that had dropped all its needles. Over the years, I’ve seen photos of him holding stringers of bass that would make any fisherman jealous and heard tales of his trips to Minnesota and Canada in the pursuit of fish and game. His guns told me the most about him. He had classic side-by-side sets, semi-autos and rifles. He wasn’t just an occasional—he was die-hard about the time he spent in the field and what he accomplished there.

Joe Bukovack, my grandfather, had his outdoor skills put to the test like so many others from his generation in World War II. His “outdoor” experiences included Normandy, North Africa, Sicily, Anzio and Germany. I’ve been told he always had a smile on his face, but I’m sure there was hurt somewhere behind his dark eyes, something he never spoke much about, I’ve been told, except late in the evening on the lake or during an early morning in the field. He was passionate about the outdoors and even more passionate about having his family there with him.

Some in the family say I have followed in his footsteps, drawn to the outdoors and the lure of what’s behind that brush pile or if there’s a fish under that log. My grandmother is convinced I am him. We do look very much alike, roughly the same build, and, like him, I followed my curiosity into the military and to foreign places that many will never get to see.

cjSharingBlind2I’ve never even met the guy, but I know what we would talk about in the blind. Small talk of the weather as the decoys are being set. His obsession with the outdoors mimicking my own, or vice versa. Over the first cup of coffee, we would talk about the ducks that would surely decoy and how we planned to hook them in around the first set of decoys to get a better a shot. The bone-chilling cold would never come up. We’ve both been colder, and that would be understood. We would laugh about what happened on our last hunt and talk about the family until just before shooting time. He would bad-mouth the military and we would laugh about some knucklehead we both knew once, in a life we’d put behind. As we loaded our guns with minutes to spare, both our faces would lose expression as this was the moment we lived for. Just before the sun came up, the dawn’s gray hue throughout the marsh would make us look like we were in an old black-and-white film. That would be the moment we’d worked for, the moment both of us felt we’d earned through good scouting and knowledge of migrating birds.

I say I have never hunted with my grandfather before, but I know I have. For those with whom we used to share a blind, and those with whom we wished we could, they are always there. Hidden amongst the cattails and marsh grasses, every time we set out our spread, and wait through those seemingly long minutes before shooting time, they are there. They watch us miss easy shots and laugh. They watch us shoot doubles and applaud. No matter the conditions, they are always with us, because it’s what we love to do together.


1 Response to “Sharing the Blind”

  1. 1 Peter Wyckoff October 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Great Story Chris!! I wish my grandfathers had been able to see the hunter that I have become. I think of both of them every time I enter a marsh. I know there would be moments when I am fussing with new gear that they would chuckle and mock all of my fancy equipment and gear and there would be moments of pride as I fold a pair of ducks in the first light.

    The bond created between generations through hunting is unequaled!!

    Good Luck this fall, our season starts Saturday the 10th!

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