I’ll never forget the sound of the opening riffs of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle” blaring through the speakers in the mud boat and the rush of the cold November wind in my face as we sped across the still Louisiana marsh in the predawn hours. Leading the way to a blind hidden deep in the tidal marshes, Lake Charles native Chris Khoury, our honorable captain, navigated our group through the maze of winding marsh canals and towering Roseau cane as he’d done a thousand times before. Today’s hunting party, however, was unlike any other before it.
The plan came together the afternoon before. The day was a special occasion: the wedding of Chris’s sister, Olivia Khoury, and my close friend, Brent Moss. I was fulfilling my sacred duty as a groomsman, which is basically providing distraction and moral support to the groom until the wedding starts. As the other groomsmen and I sat together, tuxedo-clad, enjoying each other’s company and a cold beverage or two, we passed the pre-wedding hours by telling a few hunting tales. Over the course of the afternoon, Chris, who rarely missed a morning in the duck blind, formed the wildest, grandest idea I had ever heard. What better way to toast a long, joyful marriage for the bride & groom than a celebratory post-wedding duck hunt donning our wedding attire? Chris was confident that even if we made the hunt a formal event, if we laid low and brushed the blind and ourselves as much as possible, we could get away without flaring too many ducks. Logistics were discussed and plans made. We decided that forfeiting the tuxedo rental deposit to marsh mud, dog hair, and duck feathers in return for a good story was a risk we were willing to take.
The wedding went off without a hitch, followed shortly by the typical festivities and celebration. Before long, the predawn hours had arrived, and fellow groomsmen David Rudd and I traveled south to meet Chris, along with retriever extraordinaire, Maggie, and Louisiana Ducks Unlimited Chairman, Stephen Babcock, who had jumped at the chance to join our dapper crew of well-dressed hunters on the morning hunt. After a short drive from the camp to the boat launch (and a few gawking stares from some fellow hunters), we gathered our shotguns & gear, fueled up the mud boat, donned our waders, loaded up the dog, and took off across the marsh, the sound of Slash’s guitar trailing behind us like ripples in the water.
We arrived at the blind just as darkness gave way and the very first hint of morning made itself known on the eastern horizon. As we organized gear and waited for legal shooting time, we were gifted with the most magnificent sunrise I have ever (and may ever) see. As a low blanket of clouds loomed far to our east, it proved to be the perfect canvas for the coming sunrise.
Lost in a swirl of yellows, reds, oranges, and pinks, with the rhythmic calls of waking marsh birds around me and migrating geese high overhead, I forgot for a moment that I was, in fact, in a duck blind in southwest Louisiana and had not been suddenly called home to Heaven. I was ripped from the euphoria by the beeping of Chris’s alarm. “It’s shooting time, boys!”
I live for the buildup before the first shotgun blast; the growing anticipation of watching that very first group of ducks circle the blind, hearing the rhythm of wing beats and the whistle of feathers as they pass overhead, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. That morning, a wad of speedy Green-Winged Teal volunteered to kick off the party. After circling the blind several times, the teal finally succumbed to the sweet suggestions wafting from Chris’s heavily banded lanyard of calls, and after a volley of shots, we dropped several from the flock. Over the next hour, we knocked down a few more groups of teal and continued to pick off singles or doubles of Gadwall, which we simply call ‘gray ducks’ in Louisiana, and American Wigeon. The excitement slowed around mid morning and we found ourselves a few ducks shy of a four-man limit.
There are few things more beautiful in this world than watching a well-trained hunting dog surge through water and mud to retrieve a downed duck, and, luckily for us, Chris’s dog Maggie is one of the best I’ve hunted with. Maggie hunts with both the skill of a seasoned veteran and the calculated grace of a dancer. Toward the end of our hunt, a pair of gray ducks circled the blind high and we sent a few shots their way. One of the birds dropped near our blind, but the second, wounded, caught the wind and sailed down into one of the marsh ponds several hundred yards from our blind. My heart dropped at the odds of finding that bird, but Chris and Maggie weren’t fazed. Maggie was calm and collected as Chris lined her up and sent her on her way. She crossed our pond and then hopped the marsh levee, disappearing out of sight into the forest of Roseau cane in the distance. Over the course of the next few minutes, our hunting party was treated to a show as Chris stood on top of the blind in full tuxedo-draped glory, a pair of 10x binoculars clutched to his face, giving Maggie exaggerated hand signals & motions to lead her to the general location of the bird. If a random spectator would have happened upon us, they would have believed tuxedoed Chris was performing the most passionate interpretive dance routine ever imagined. Ten minutes later, Maggie popped back into our pond carrying a beautiful Gadwall drake and completing our four-man limit. It was the longest blind retrieve I’ve ever seen a dog make (in tough conditions to boot), and the icing on the cake to what was already an incredibly unforgettable hunt.
After a morning full of lots of stories and laughs and a little bit of hunting, we gathered our birds, straightened our bowties, and posed for a few photos, capturing the memory of the hunt for eternity. When we returned back to the boat slips, the groups of fellow hunters we had seen earlier that morning joined in with our laughter and knee slapping as we recounted our story and showed them a strap full of ducks. You could hardly wipe the smiles from our faces as we headed back to the camp for a well-deserved nap. Somehow, we even managed to contact the bride and groom, who at that point were halfway to some undisclosed honeymoon destination, and they got quite the kick out of our hunt photos. Today, almost a year later, I am still asked regularly to tell the tale of “the time we killed our limits wearing tuxedos.”
Oh, what hunters will do for a couple of ducks and a good story.
Epilogue: No tuxedos were harmed in the making of this hunt. All rental deposits were returned to their owners (despite some questioning looks), no questions asked.