Duck Hunter's Daughter

Sung to the tune of Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter." That would be me, Ed McGill's oldest child.

EdMcGill, frequently spoken using both first name and last by friends and family alike, except children and young people who called him Mr. Ed, and his children, who reverently replied in all situations, "Yes, sir, Daddy, sir" or "No, sir, Daddy, sir," just like a good Marine.

God broke the mold when he made that one. Omnipotent knower of all things relevant, he was, and what he didn't know wasn't relevant. As my sister, Carolyn, and I often joke: Ed McGill's Rule No. 1: As long as you put your feet under my table, you'll do as I say, not as I do.

He was a man’s man and the consummate duck hunter. Johnny Dewberry told me recently that his grandfather, J. C. Fitzhugh, believed himself to be the best duck hunter in Woodruff County, with the exception of Ed McGill.

Daddy loved the sport more than anything in the world, although he also hunted quail, before all his dogs got lost or died, and deer, until he said he was “too old”. Hunting quail and deer just never satisfied his soul as duck hunting did.

He told me once (after swearing me to secrecy) that mine was the only one of his children’s birthdays he remembered, because I was born during duck season.

Not that the event is one I recall, but I have been told that he left before dawn that cold January morning to hunt ducks. During the season, he would return from the duck woods on week-days and go to work, but this particular day was Sunday. He expected to make a day of hunting, since that was before his churching days. He came home for ‘dinner’, as we used to call the noon meal, to discover Mother having labor pains. He forgot about food and sped to Dr. Dungan’s home-office to fetch him to attend the delivery. Dorothy Willis tells me Dr. Dungan was driving at a snail’s pace, and my impatient father in his truck, bulldozed the good doctor’s car all the way down the street.

In retrospect, Daddy’s efforts to rush Dr. Dungan to the house may have been aimed more towards getting back to the duck woods before dark than in getting the doctor to the house in time for the birthing.

The afternoon hunt was canceled, and I was born later that day. I’ve never been sure if he begrudged the interruption of that day in the duck woods. Could have been why I got more ‘whuppins’ than the other two.

My 19-year-old granddaughter is a duck hunter, but as Jerry Billy Pendergist says, “she gets it”; I don’t. I was just never intrigued by the idea of climbing out of a warm, snugly bed at 4 a.m. on a frigid winter morning, bedecking myself in long underwear, hunting gear, heavy socks, and hip boots for the sole purpose of wandering aimlessly in Black Swamp or the Cache River bottoms, freezing my butt off, toting a gun, which could have gone off at any moment, hence blowing off one of my feet, which would prevent me from ever wearing high heels again, and, horror of horrors, never being quite sure what kind of creature might rise up out of that murky swamp. I’d seen “Creature from the Black Lagoon” by that time and had no intention of risking such a gruesome and bizarre death.

Women didn’t hunt in those days anyway. We just cooked breakfast for the mighty hunters. I did volunteer several times to cook breakfast at 4:00 a.m. – sausage, eggs, gravy and homemade biscuits using my Grandmother McGill’s recipe – for my duck hunting brother, my cousin, Butch Angelo, and several of my teen-age hunter friends, including Jerry Billy.

Daddy lived and breathed duck hunting. The family ate his kill, it seemed at the time, breakfast, dinner and supper. Our freezer was crammed with ducks year in and year out, for Ed McGill rarely missed getting his limit, which gradually dwindled from eight to six to four through the years. We were privileged to dine on baked duck, duck salad, duck and dressing, barbecued duck as prepared by I. C. Watson, roasted duck, and to borrow a menu description from the famed Waffle House hash browns, thrown, blown, smothered, scattered, fried and fricasseed duck.

Daddy was a renowned duck caller, as all who hunted with him were aware. He reckoned he was the best in the world and rarely allowed anyone else in the boat with him to use their calls. Before each duck season opened, he would ‘practice’ various types of calls, all of which were contrived to woo those poor gullible birds in for the anticipated kill. In all honesty, I never “got it”, as Jerry Billy would say, and never did understand why family members were required to patronize his rehearsal sessions.

And then there were duck blinds, another oddity I never fathomed. Blinds belonged to renowned duck hunters: Ed McGill’s duck blind; Jack Oakes’ duck blind; Tom Stanley’s duck blind. Others had their own duck blinds, too. Sometimes even foreigners, like duck hunters from Memphis, had their own blinds.

What exactly was - or is – a duck blind? What did it look like? Did it require renovation every year? Those were not questions I asked, but a tremendous amount of work went into getting the duck blind ‘ready’, because Daddy spend a lot of time on the annual project.

I never experienced the thrill of a duck hunt, nor is it on my list of ‘things to do’ before I die. But as a duck hunter’s daughter, I know more about the sport than the average woman or non-hunter. Perhaps the knowledge will be good for extra points in Heaven. 

By Lee McGill Jones