Mike Wilson: The christening of ‘The Lucky 7’

Published 2:15 pm Saturday, November 26, 2022

Mike Wilson

When the Briery Creek Wildlife Management Area, featuring hundreds of acres of flooded timber for bass fishing and duck hunting, opened in Prince Edward County only three miles from my house, I could see that I would need a boat for both pursuits. I settled on a 14-foot Buddy jon boat that happened to be in stock at the nearby canoe dealer and gave it a rather amateurish camo paint job. This was 30 years ago. From the beginning, outboard motors were prohibited on that lake, so I usually paddled and/or used a small electric trolling motor to get around.

Now during that era, I made some great friends among the hunting students at Hampden-Sydney College, where I taught Spanish. One was from New Orleans, and he was at least a third generation duck hunter accustomed to somehow getting out almost every one of the 60 days of the season down there (we won’t raise the specter of “truancy”), so he had to make a tremendous sacrifice to get educated so far from home.

At least in those days, he didn’t have to suffer the torture of receiving photos of his friends and kin showing off heavy straps of ducks every morning of the world on his cell phone. He was full of amazing stories of alligators, great Labs, and ingenious relatives, such as the one who baited a pond in the off season by driving up to the bank at top speed in an old VW Beetle with the trunk lid removed and then slamming on the brakes at the last second to let hundreds of pounds of corn slide into the water. Now that is efficiency!

We took the boat out scouting a couple of weeks before the December split and found a nice grass bed only a couple of feet deep. It was bordered by flooded hardwoods, along what must have been a fence line before the dam was built. This was it. We decided we would come back there for the opening day. Now this was a season in which USFWS had reduced the bag limit to three ducks daily, because of poor nesting conditions up north and the resultant low population.

When the day of our hunt finally arrived, we situated the boat among the trees and set out the decoys on the grass bed. Just after legal light, a big mixed flock came in and we both emptied our guns down to the plugs. When we surveyed the damage, we could see three greenwing teal and three mallard drakes floating dead and a fat hen mallard lying on her back and pedaling the air furiously. Uh-oh.

Within seconds, we heard a gas outboard rev up down the lake, and that could only mean one thing: the game warden, Bill Powers, who of course was authorized to use a gas motor. I was really panicking because I have always adhered very strictly to regulations and was even a certified hunter safety instructor, and I couldn’t imagine losing my license — or even my favorite shotgun — and getting fined. What could we do?

With perfect serenity, my Louisiana friend asked, “Got a pocketknife?” I handed him one and what followed is still etched in my memory as if it were yesterday. I promise that in under a minute he breasted out that hen, dropped the filets down the front of his waders, mashed the carcass into the soft mud bottom beneath our feet, rinsed his hands and the knife, and handed it back to me. His own indelible memory of that moment is my immediate reaction: “Harrito, you’ve done this before…”

The warden went on up the lake, much to our relief. We decided that the boat should definitely be christened “The Lucky 7,” and I have had a decal with that numeral on the bow ever since. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I have taken her out in these decades of hunting, but that time is by far the most memorable.

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.