By: Randy Tucker
It was just an icy slough between two connected, but rapidly freezing, high altitude, prairie lakes. Lake Hattie was one lake, connected by a pair of channels. One channel was about 200 yards across a d connected the first two lakes, while the second was that icy slough.
The slough ranged from 40 to 125 yards across. It was our favorite spot for mid and late-season waterfowl hunting.
The central flyway was the primary migratory route, but it was common to see birds blown in from the western flyway by the incredibly fierce prairie storms that rolled unabated from the Sierra Nevada, down the mountain draws of the Rockies, and onto the barren plains west of Laramie.
Those plains are more than 7,000 feet above sea level, dotted with glacial moraines that carved out this vast, flat land during the last ice age. By late October and into the final months of waterfowl season in November, it resembled an ice age once again.
As University of Wyoming students in the late 1970s, we’d gather in the evenings and in the morning on nearly every Saturday and Sunday during waterfowl season.
My merry band of misfits was diminished a bit. Scott got married, became civilized, complete with the vacuous eyes of the recently tamed, and didn’t go out with us anymore.
That left Gino, Frank, our friend Andy Herbst, and a new arrival: a 19-year-old defensive end from California named Dwayne, who was a recent addition to the Wyoming Cowboy roster.
Gino had his 12 gauge, semi-auto Berrett; my single-shot Iver Johnson was as trusty as ever; we had Frank’s unknown 16-gauge pump from Coast to Coast, Gambles or some other Midwest chain, and Andy’s 12-gauge Remington 870 rounded out our artillery.
The first time Dwayne went out with us, he used a borrowed side-by-side 12 gauge. He quickly sent word home, and his Mossberg pump arrived in the mail.
It was a different time in America, a time when you could send a gun via the United States Postal Service with few if any questions.
One Saturday, Dwayne had to suit up for a Cowboy home game and didn’t get to go with us.
We took our seats down close to the sidelines in the student section, and he caught our eye.
“How many?” he mouthed silently too us.
“We limited out,” we all yelled back collectively. He slumped visibly, but not before an idiot sitting in front of us began to mock him.
“The Cowboys suck. You must really suck not to play,” the guy yelled, getting a little recognition from the drunks sitting around him.
He kept it up the entire first half.
In the third quarter, he started up on Dwayne again.
Dwayne just turned and stared at him.
“What are you looking at, funny boy?” the clown yelled at him.
I leaned forward and said, “Listen, moron, he’s memorizing your face.”
That set the guy back a little bit.
After another loss, Dwayne met us downtown at our favorite haunt, “The Buckhorn Bar.”
There was a tradition at the Buck (as we called it).
The Buckhorn was a two-story bar with a small dance floor upstairs, along with a few booths, and a couple of tables.
If you fell or were so inebriated you couldn’t navigate the stairs on your own, you did something called the “Buckhorn Roll.” When some college kid crashed down to the first-floor landing a bartender came over, gave him a sharpie, and the kid signed his name above the door. It was sort of a “Hall of Fame for Idiots.”
Dwayne was in a quiet mood, sitting on the inside of one of those wide booths with me on the outside and Frank in the middle.
He just kept starring at his glass, listening to our stories of the early morning hunt that day.
All of a sudden, the big kid from a little town outside Los Angeles started shoving us.
“Get out of the way you guys,” he yelled as we slowly stood up to let him slide out.
Once free, he walked across the floor, met a guy who had just come up the stairs, and hit him hard right between the eyes. The guy rolled backward down the steps, but didn’t get to sign his name.
“What was that about,” we all shouted in unison.
“That was the guy who was giving me crap at the game,” Dwayne said.
Fair enough, justice served in a rowdy, college cow town.
Sunday morning we picked up Dwayne at the freshman football dorm and headed back to Lake Hattie.
As we set up along the slough, Gino, Dwayne, and I took the east side of the waterway. Andy and Frank set up on the far side with Frank’s decoys floating a few yards offshore.
Andy wouldn’t sit down. For some reason, he kept fooling around with his 870, working the action back-and-forth. We heard several flights of teal jetting in from the middle lake, but they veered off each time they saw Andy standing there.
We did one of those loud whispers, more a quiet yell really, telling Andy to get down.
He didn’t listen.
Gino, who grew up in upstate New York, had enough.
“Hey Herbst,” Gino yelled, “Get down.”
Then he shot his 12 gauge high in the air, with just enough angle to pepper Frank and Andy with a shower of spent shot.
Andy didn’t like it, but he got down.
We settled in, and within an hour had our limit of redheads, teal, and a couple of mallards.
It was all in a day, back in the day, as the kids say now.
I can only hope the hunters attending the University of Wyoming today have those same chances.