By Chief Naturalist Anthony Escobedo
A very fundamental concept that we like to include here at Dunes Learning Center is to teach the importance of understanding where food comes from. Many students in my trail groups are shocked if they find out that I am an avid outdoorsman who hunts and fishes regularly. This includes many comments like “Aren’t you supposed to be a naturalist? How can you do that?” This usually leads to a conversation about conservation and sometimes ethics. Occasionally I have a student or two who themselves have been hunting either with a family member or friend. It usually just leads to good conversation sharing hunting stories, as if we were in the hunting blind or old buddies getting together to trade tales. On one very special occasion I met a young man named Keegan. Keegan began telling me all about his hunting adventures with his dad, Greg (the parent chaperone with the group), including how he has shot a goose and deer “so far.”
Keegan and his father Greg were members of my “Chubby Squirrels” trail group. They attended a three-day overnight program with Keegan’s school at Dunes Learning Center. One thing that appeals to me about hunting, specifically waterfowl hunting, is the camaraderie. Hunters can instantly bond with one another as they begin talking about tales of a hunt. When I met Keegan, we instantly formed that bond. Recognizing the excitement in both of our voices and seeing the excitement in his eyes, I knew he was a special kid, a born leader. I was graciously invited by Keegan and his father Greg, on a duck hunt and jumped at the opportunity.
While walking up to the duck blind, I struck up a light conversation with Keegan to break the ice. Much like any other 10 year old kid, Keegan was still half asleep at 6:00 am, whereas I was excited to be hunting with some new friends. Keegan, Greg, and I tossed out a few decoys and quickly got in the blind. Within minutes, we had the first duck come in, a drake mallard. We kept our heads down, but our eyes on the bird. I couldn’t help but take my eyes off the bird for a brief second to take a look at Keegan, who was frozen with excitement and anticipation. When the bird came in close enough I yelled, “Take him, Keegan!”
Keegan popped up and unloaded his 20 gauge. The bird folded and his dad walked out into the pond to get it. Just a few seconds later, we had a tornado of birds circling over us. We did everything we could to scramble back into the blind, everyone calling out birds: “There’s some to the left.” “There’s some right on top of us!” “Keep your head down, there’s some coming in behind us!”
Again I looked over at Keegan, and saw him grinning from ear to ear. A wood duck came from the left and I heard Keegan yell, “Take him, Anthony!” I thought to myself, “How the tables have turned,” and I unloaded my 12 gauge and finally watched the bird fall. “Nice shot!” he told me. “All you.” His excitement was contagious, and I couldn’t help but smile as well.
It was one of the best hunts that I have ever been on, and it wasn’t because of the number of birds we saw. Right before my very eyes I watched this young man, at 10 years old, grow into a fine outdoorsman. The laughing, story trading, and heckling is all a part of being in a duck blind, and Keegan fit right in. It’s really the memories that hunters pursue… and this is a memory I will cherish forever. Thanks, Keegan and Greg.