Mike Wilson: Let’s give a requiem for Sweet Sally

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, August 24, 2023

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Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson
Guest columnist

It is a significant understatement to declare that my friend The DC (apologies to Phil, but doesn’t every veteran duck-hunting crew have one by now?) can be hard on his equipment sometimes. Consider his 2009 Ranger pickup, battered well beyond its years, whose side-view mirrors have been shorn off by the trees lining muddy logging roads so often that he has contemplated ordering replacements from Ford by the case. My own most lasting memory of that vehicle will surely be the sight of it wedged between two sycamores while simultaneously bottomed out on a slight mound in the path on the way out of a hunt a few years ago. That feat required the assistance of his curmudgeonly cousin, who was roused from a nice warm house a half mile away on Saturday morning to attend us with full rescue gear: tractor, chain saw, tow chains, a black Lab, a Busch Light. I still shudder, at least mildly, when I see that stump…

Sweet Sally was (is?) a Browning BPS 10 gauge pump with which he enjoyed an on-and-off relationship for several years. “On” when first it was lent him on an extended basis by a kind and recoil-averse co-worker who found himself short on the time or inclination to hunt ducks, “off” when the friend eventually moved out of state with Sally in tow, “on” again when The DC, unable to sleep well or concentrate and with the knowledge that her owner was essentially retired from both truck manufacturing and fowling, humbly requested by long distance another chance to lug her about. The owner generously complied, and the beaming DC stocked up on always pricey 10 ga. steel.

Sally was with us for a late January goose hunt at Lake Norman. We knew that a big flock flew into a grass field next to the water a little before 8 almost every morning, and we set up accordingly. Unfortunately, the only available setup required having our retinas seared by the sunrise, but at least we had remembered this time to bring sunglasses. We heard them coming from our right, and when they got good and close we loosed our deadly volley. Of two shots.

Sorry, I forgot to mention that we had fired at some ducks just a bit earlier, and now it turned out that Sally only contained one round (my man had forgotten to reload) while my own shotgun, sporting a new replacement magazine tube cap with swivel stud, disassembled itself such that after one shot I saw my new cap plus plug, spring, and follower describe a graceful slow-motion arc through the air and settle in a foot of (fortunately, clear) water about 20 yards away. We did not seem at first to have affected the flock much, but then we saw a big one falter and glide down on the water about 150 yards away.

After numerous imprecations (mine alone; he is a deacon), we left the decoys and got in the boat to retrieve the goose. It appeared nearly spent when we got there, its head down in the water. And then, just as we reached it, it dove underwater and out of sight — something I definitely had never witnessed, at least with a goose. We waited quite a while until it finally surfaced about 40 yards away. DC, with Sweet Sally on his lap duly reloaded this time and primed for action, asked, “Think I should I shoot it again?” I suggested holding off because it already looked moribund. I pulled alongside so he could haul it aboard, and when he grabbed it, we could suddenly see it was still pretty lively. He threw it behind him as it flapped and flopped about violently and reached around to wring its neck with both hands. And that’s when it happened…

With the smoothness of an Olympic gold-medalist diver or a National Geographic Channel crocodile, Sally silently slid off his lap and entered the water with nary a ripple. We both sat in stunned silence. I now know that, just as television makes you look 10% thicker, dropping an expensive borrowed shotgun into a lake offers an instant and corresponding reduction in corporal mass: I actually saw my good friend deflate. The rest of the morning was pretty doggoned sad.

Since that day, we have tried together and I have also coopted other hunting partners several times to drag that spot, about 15 feet deep and roughly triangulated with a buoy, an oak tree, and a dock end, with retrieval magnets of supposedly advanced capacity. I am certain I have had it on the end of the line a couple of times, but apparently adhesion to only the edge of something round and carefully oiled like a barrel doesn’t afford quite enough grip. We discovered in the aftermath of the tragedy that The DC’s own dear daughter is no less than a certified rescue diver; perhaps she will stoop to inanimate rescue when the water has warmed up a little. We’ll most definitely keep trying; I personally can’t bear the thought of Sweet Sally sleeping with the fishes (specifically channel cats and white perch).

(Gratifying postscript: we now know, much to The DC’s relief, that the owner, maintaining that he “never liked” her, has no interest in compensation of any kind should she fail to eventually surface…)

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu