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The Elusive Great Horned Swamp Duck!

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The Swamp Duck


     One summer evening back about Ought Five, I was in the company of a troop of Boy Scouts on a campout near some lake.  Heck, there’ve been so many campouts and so many lakes I don’t even remember which lake it was – but wherever it was, we were there.


     Supper was done, cleanup completed, and a few other dads and I were loosely gaggled around the campfire.  The Scoutmaster and I (I was Assistant Scoutmaster at that time) and the other dads all had mugs of steaming coffee in hand, relaxing and watching as the boys roasted marshmallows and built S’mores.


     Suddenly, James Huddleston’s young, pale and freckled face topped by a mop of carrot-colored hair popped up.  With a grin he asked “Hey!  Mister Curmudgeon!  Can you tell us a story?”


     All eyes turned toward me – kids and dads alike all showed a bit of anticipation. 


     A story?  Hmm… 


      “Well, alrighty then.  Have I ever told you about the time I went on safari, in search of the Elusive, Great Horned Swamp Duck?”


     All activity suddenly ceased.  The bit of anticipation became rapt attention.  The boys gazed at me with eager expectation, the grownups smiled, and my son, Ryan, beamed – he knew the tale.


      “No?” I asked.  “Well then!  Here’s what happened!”


The Hunt!

     Lessee… it was around 1974, as I recall.  Actually, it was probably early 1975; late winter, as duck season was still underway.


     My old pards Bob “Stewballs” Stuart and Bill “Wynuts” Wyant and I were starting to suffer from cabin fever – pheasant season was well behind us, and for some reason we hadn’t done much duck hunting. 


     We needed to address this totally unacceptable situation.  So, after some discussion, we decided to do something extremely special – we were gonna go on safari, in search of the Elusive Great-Horned Swamp Duck!


     Now, the Elusive Great Horned Swamp Duck was legendary!  The ancient Native American peoples of the Suisun Nation would tell tales of the now extinct creature to scare their children.  Actually, the stories of the terrible bird would often scare even the most fiercest of the nation’s warriors.  A frightful beast, indeed, according to their traditions.  It was said that a single Swamp Duck could rip a warrior/hunter limb from limb; one of their yarns spoke of a Swamp Duck once spotted picking his teeth with a finger bone from a missing Mighty Hunter.


     Well, Bill and Bob and I decided that it would be fun to head out to the Suisun Marshes, and base our hunt out of Grizzly Island.  As luck would have it, both Bob and I had been drawn for reservations to hunt the reservation!  (That makes sense if you’re a duck hunter…).


     On the given day, we were up and on our way by 0400, and checked in by 0500.  We drove to our favorite “pond” (if you’re a duck hunter, you’ll know what that means) and parked.


     Suited up with our waders, li’l backpacks with snacks and thermoses of hot cocoa and of course, our shotguns, we set out.  With Bobbo leading the way, we hiked about a half mile down a levee, then when we decided we’d come to a good spot, we spread out about thirty five yards apart and “dove” off the levee.  The water was less than waist deep, and we started along in a three-man “skirmish line,” about forty yards apart.


     With dawn, the morning started to turn grey as we sloshed along.  But as the morning grew lighter, something weird happened!


     There was no warning, and mist began to form on the surface of the water.  It was really eerie!  The mist formed swirls… and puddles… and streaks and lines and blooms.  I stopped to watch it waver about, and looked off to my right and saw that Bill and Bob stopped to watch it, too.  It was really creepy!


     I looked out at the small sea of young faces; eyes wide, some with mouths agape, all totally captivated by my saga.


     And then it happened.  Suddenly, I found myself completely engulfed in fog!  Just like THAT, the entire world was like being inside a giant box of gray fluff!  I could barely see – and worse, when I tried to call to Bob and Bill, the fog just muffled my cries!


     Ooooh…. This was just toooo Twilight Zone-ish. 


     I decided I had to move on, and started to wade in what I hoped was a straight line.  I didn’t have a compass, and I could not tell any direction from another – it was horrible!


     But I checked my watch, and forged ahead.  About forty-five minutes later, I paused, and reluctantly admitted to myself that I was plumb lost.  It was kinda scary.  Oh heck – there was no “kinda” about it!  It was PLUMB scary!  But if I’d had any idea what lay ahead, I woulda just turned around and hauled bananas back in the direction I’d come from.  ‘Cept I didn’t have a clue what direction that was!


     I decided to press on.  I don’t think I got more than twenty yards when I realized that something was happening – the fog was lifting!  So, I stopped again, and watched as the fog did indeed dissipate – but only in an arena-like area.   I could see the surface of the water swimming with the swirling mists… and the fog itself raised and moved back, and I discovered myself in a football-field sized oval that was clear from the water to the sky, which shined overhead in a brilliant robin’s egg blue. Complete with speckles!  Now, that was REALLY weird!


     “What happened then, Mister Curmudgeon?  What HAPPENED??”


     Well Fellas, I gotta tell ya, I was plumb weirded out.  But what happened NEXT was REALLY scary!


     “What?  What happened??” they demanded.


     Well, Men… it was like this:  As I looked about, I had a feeling like I was in another land.  The surface of the water still swirled with a thin layer of mist, and here and there I could see clumps of tules and other vegetation.  And in the distance – if I was on the ten yard line of that football-field sized oval, at about the goal line in front of me was an exceptional-sized clump o’ them tules and some other strange lookin’ bushes.


     I was really creeped out – but then something caught my eye!


     I heard something in the distance, and my eyes went to that big bunch o’ vegetation on the goal line.  I was sure I’d heard something.  I stared at it, then Oh My Gosh! It moved!  Slightly at first, and then something shook the brush.  More and more.  And then something snarled!  I did not know WHAT was in those bushes, but whatever it was, it was plumb MAD!  Then it started to REALLY shake, and leaves and twigs were ripped from the plants and were flying every which way!


     “Oh, WOW, Mister Curmudgeon!  What WAS it??”


     Well guys… I was about to find out!


     Suddenly, there was a terrific rendering of branches… and… and… and there it WAS!  Right before my eyes, about eighty yards away, he stood with a pair of evil eyes fixed on poor me!


     In all his horrifying glory, just as real as I am sittin’ here tonight telling you, was the not-so-extinct-after-all Elusive Great Horned Swamp Duck.


     He was about the size of a modern turkey, his beak twisted in a permanent snarl.  Above that were the flame-red, beady-but-sharp eyes.  Surrounding his head was what appeared to be a set of needle-sharp, curved horns, seemingly formed from calcified feathers.  On the backside of his shins were a pair of equally sharp spurs – seeming sharp and long enough to be capable of gutting a predator.  I fully suspect that even a mountain lion wouldn’t want to tangle with the Swamp Duck!


     And then he let out the most fearsome “KVWAAAAAK” you could imagine, lowered his head, and charged!!  Right at ME!!


     By now the boys were all slack-jawed, all on their knees or crouched as if ready to jump to their feet and run to their tents.


     “O Lordy!  What did you DO!”


     Well, I’ll tell you what I did!


     Mister Swamp Duck was a mite slow outta the blocks, but he was accelerating at a pretty good clip and churning up a duck tail (rather than a rooster tail) as he charged, running on top of the water, his flat, paddle feet gaining good purchase with every stroke.  With his awful, heart-chilling cry doing an up-doppler increase in pitch, I gathered my wits about me:  after all, I WAS a duck hunter!


     I forced myself to calmly shoulder my trusty old Stevens double-barreled shotgun.  I carefully “led” the monster as he approached, happy that I had loaded two rounds of heavy goose shells.


     When I figured he was barely in range at about 45 yards, I squeezed the trigger.




     UH OH.


     Realizing I had to keep my cool, I shortened the lead and squeezed the trigger again.




     Well now.  This was definitely not good. 


     I’d like to say that I totally maintained my cool.  But to be honest, I realized that I was about to be engaged in mortal, hand-to-hand combat with the quite perturbed and likely carnivorous “not-so-extinct-after-all Elusive Great Horned Swamp Duck.”


     Who was approaching most rapidly.  Still accelerating and “KVWAAAK-ing” all the more loudly. 


     I had only one chance.  In desperation, I threw my now not-so-trusty Stevens shotgun with it’s evidently two fog-soaked shells into the drink with a ker-Splash, and drew my hopefully-still-trusty hunting knife.


     I braced myself, as the horrid fiend neared.


     I believe in miracles.  I needed one right then, and thankfully, one was delivered!


     Seeming to stumble, the nightmarish creature suddenly seemed to do a somersault on top of the water.  He tumbled, splashed, and actually skidded across the surface and ultimately came to a stop at my feet.  (Actually, that would have been above my feet, and my feet were under about two-and-a-half feet of water).


     Dead.  Literally, a dead duck.  A dead Elusive Great-Horned Swamp Duck.  Perhaps now finally extinct, even!


     I paused, and looked over the mass of captivated faces.


     “Mister Curmudgeon!  Mister Curmudgeon!  What the heck HAPPENED?  Your gun didn’t work… you didn’t have a chance to use your knife… WHAT HAPPENED?”


     Why, Fellas…!  I’d think that would be obvious!


     Evidently, I was so terrified the poor critter died of fright…!


     Now, boys, git to yore tents!





Edited by Hardpan Curmudgeon SASS #8967
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8 minutes ago, Marshal Mo Hare, SASS #45984 said:

Can’t be telling the boys a fraternity drinking yarn.


So I was forty when Sassparilla Kid arrived.


One day, when he was five (twenty-five years ago) he was perched on the sofa and overheard me telling my cousin the story of "The Range Fire."   When I hung up the phone, the Kid gave me a five-year old look of disgust and blurted out "Dad.  Why do you tell stories like that?  You know that stuff doesn't happen in real life!"


Well, I was stunned.  My kid was calling his Pop a liar!


I pondered a moment, then called up Palouse... when I told him what the Kid had said, he laughed and said "Put 'im on!"


I crooked a finger at the Kid and summoned him - I handed him the phone, and Palouse proceeded to tell him the tale; he had been there, along with me, Hank, Hawkeye O'Reilly, and a few other new or future "Cowboys."  The kid was astonished; when he disconnected, he looked at me with an expression of wonder and said "Gee, Dad!  It really DID happen!"


When he was growing up he would pass on any opportunity to play with other kids if there was a chance of hanging around Dad and his buddies, including a few Kappa Phi Delta guys he'd gotten to know.  Especially Hank and Half-Breed Pete.  ^_^



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I got to tell you. I really enjoyed that story. Until you got to the end. Where it made no sense.


The duck saw you, and you were so scared, that the duck died of fright.


Now, if you had said that you were so terrifying - so scary - that the duck died of fright, that would have made sense.


But so terrified that the duck died of fright?? :blink:

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13 minutes ago, Alpo said:

I got to tell you. I really enjoyed that story. Until you got to the end. Where it made no sense.


The duck saw you, and you were so scared, that the duck died of fright.


Now, if you had said that you were so terrifying - so scary - that the duck died of fright, that would have made sense.


But so terrified that the duck died of fright?? :blink:




It's highly contagious, don'tcha know!  ^_^

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