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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

A Tale of One Man’s Near-Death Oklahoma Duck Hunt

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Life can have a way of getting ahead of us in one way or another, and each one of us can, on occasion, in our own ways, be downright boar-headed enough to burn our respective candles right, left, and straight down the center. A sick toddler, sick wife, and in-laws spending a few too many days on the couch in the living room had me at my wick’s end, reduced to a molten puddle of paraffin. I needed a flipping nap. A very long nap.

I’d been invited on a press junket with Sitka Gear to give the brand’s waterfowling line of apparel a go. My initial response to this as with most of these sorts of things is no. There’s too much weight in the way of expectation attached to it and feeling beholden to a brand or media-relations agency borders on prostitution—no offense intended to that age-old occupation, but it’s never a good place to be in the mucky world of journalism where your name is all you’ve got.

But then again, Sitka’s not some crackpot, no-name label trying to buy their coverage, and after a bit of a hiatus from the sport, hunting is increasingly forging its way back into my life–and my identity. I generally try to harvest my own protein, and while seafood makes up most of my diet, a little flesh from fur- and feather-bearers offers welcome variety. That and the fact that I must be one of fairly few gun-loving liberals in New York City might at least make for some interesting copy.

Mental Preparation

How I’d sell the story, I had no clue. The “G” word is all but banned in most of the outlets that are willing to cut me a check, and I’m not exactly the type of esteemed marksman that Gray’s Sporting Journal is going to jump on for a wing-shooting feature. However, I’d wrangled my share of off-beat assignments in the past. In any case, I’d be in a nice new hunting lodge in a fine feather bed for a few nights, sans toddler. Here comes that nap, I thought. Not that duck-hunting trips are all that conducive to sleep, but relative to early fatherhood…

Plane & Ambulance Rides

Off I went, weeks behind on sleep, malnourished, and run down in about every way, shape, and form. Beer for breakfast at the airport? Don’t mind if I do. Maybe a Bloody Mary first. I was so damned exhausted I was looking forward to getting comatose on a commercial-airline flight for a nap—sitting in economy at that.

The first half of the flight had gone by without so much as a droopy eyelid. I’d grown so desperate for sleep that it had become its own form of restlessness. My last recollection was that a couple more of Father’s little helpers might go down nicely with just one more bee—before I could finish uttering the monosyllabic moniker of that heavenly carbonated elixir, there was no longer any need for it. I’d already arrived, and my lights were out. And not just out, but out out. Dreamland of a thousand dreamlands. As in the great big dirt nap, mid-air, the fate the central flyway ducks passing over Oklahoma were supposed to meet this week, not me in my big steel bird.

Truth be told, I have no recollection of how I went from 30,000 feet to the back of an ambulance. As soon as the docs got me stabilized, I rang the media reps over at Sitka and informed them I’d be a little delayed, but would make my way down to the ranch as soon as the doctors had cleared me. They implored me to get a hotel in town so they could put me on a plane the following morning and send me on my way back home to the family, like the responsible, hospitable, gentlemanly hosts they are.

But turning back would necessitate an explanation back home, and that sure as shit wasn’t happening. (Word to the wise/To wit: My wife already knew what had happened to me. They always know.)

So off I hobbled, out of the ER, into an Uber, and down to the lodge.

sitka

Dinner and a very welcome cold beer awaited in the dining room upon my arrival. A quick rundown of the gear over dessert was completely lost on me (for what I’ll defend as understandable reasons) and I made that fine feather bed faster no sooner than my bloodless feet could deposit me there.

Duck Hunting in Sitka Gear

The 5:00 am wake-up call for duck hunting came quicker than desired, and while it was cooler back at home, something about the wind whipping across the prairie in the predawn blackness had me reaching for the warmest stuff I could find. That, and probably the ensuing poor blood flow from yesterday’s misadventure.

sitka duck hunt

Long johns or sweats and some thick neoprene fishing waders are usually what have made up my duck-hunting attire in the past. A little wool up top under some 3M Thinsulate, and even on the colder winter days at home on Long Island Sound, I’d been comfortable enough. Or so I thought.

The Gradient Pants were a prompt and welcome, electric-blanket antidote to the chill I felt rolling out of bed, leaving my previously sufficient (and not inexpensive) long johns in the lurch.

The Core Merino 120 Longsleeve Crew shirt came next. Where I’ve been displeased with merino-nylon blends in the past, Sitka’s presented none of the scratchy, plastic-y stiffness with which I’d previously associated the stuff, and felt more like a fine, pure merino wool–one I’d just as soon take for a single layer in the heat as a cool-weather base layer. 120 grams per square meter of fabric makes for some seriously featherlight material, something most merino wools (blends or otherwise) can’t manage without falling into tatters after a wash or two.

Again, with temps hovering in the low 30s, a second Core Merino layer came in the way of the 220 Half-Zip, a still-lightweight fleece creating a second temperature and moisture barrier.

With the winds up and the air damp, I opted for the heaviest of Sitka’s outerwear offerings, the Duck Oven Jacket. With Gore-Tex shielding and Primaloft insulation, this thing put my 3M Thinsulate to shame. Not only was I warmer, but I felt like I was in the high-fill-power down of my favorite winter parka with none of the weight.

The showstoppers, though, where I’m concerned as an all-around outdoorsman, were the Delta Zip Waders. In all my days of wading through glacial runoff and near-freezing mid-winter sea temperatures, I have never felt a boot so insulated, nor padding so delightful to kneel upon. Take, for example, the insulation in Muck Boots’ Arctic line, and double it. Imagine your thickest pair of neoprene fishing waders and make them not only thinner but warmer and breathable. I joked upon entering the blind, but by morning’s end my pretentious claim held true and prescient: I’d trade my sleeping bag for this getup.

duck hunting

These waders are coming on all future forward duck hunting trips and any fly fishing ventures in waters under 50. Hell, you can bury me in these puppies–in due time, that is. I’ve got a few more ducks to pick off first.

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