Some hunts are just that…more. This past weekend was one of those hunts. While it was hard hunting and we spent longer in the duck blind than usual, there was meaning to that time on so many levels.
In November 2018, I was planning to travel to Lincoln, Kansas with my business partner to go pheasant hunting with his boys, David and Joseph along with Mike’s brother-in-law, Casey. Mike was in advanced stages of his cancer and recovering from a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor. Of course, Mike being Mike, he would get the rarest of prostate cancer with metastases to his brain. We knew his time on Earth was short but he was determined to make this one last hunting trip with the boys. On Thursday before we were planning to leave on Saturday Mike called and asked if we could make a duck hunt happen on Sunday morning. I then called on Chris Wilson of 2 River’s Hunting to see if he could squeeze in a last minute a duck hunt. My next call was to good friend and mentor, and Judy Rhodes, founder of DIVA Women Outdoors Worldwide, to let her know what we were planning.
Chris & Judy both went above and beyond making this hunt happen. When I told Chris we might need to have a wheelchair in the blind, he and his dad made sure the blind was set up and level in case we needed the wheelchair, but Mike was able to walk into the blind when we got his spot set up. Judy was there as my support system, my Diva sister and friend of Mike. Shaka, Judy’s amazing Deutsch-Drahthaar, did her usual fabulous job retrieving which was a good thing as David’s lab took off for the casino as he had never duck hunted before. He’s a great upland hunter, duck hunting…not so much.
There are so many stories of this hunt, but to say the least it was epic. We left the timing up to Mike and in an hour and a half, we had harvested a bounty of ducks – greenheads, gadwall and wood duck. It was amazing watching the ducks drop into the Honey Hole just like bees coming to nectar. We knew it was a blessing sent from above! Mike still had it in him to make the shots & made a point of telling me so! He was so excited and thankful to have the experience with David and Joseph. Then, we were back on the road to his place in Lincoln, Kansas to pheasant hunt.
After the hunt, Mike’s life was indeed short. Two days later I had to take Mike to the emergency room in Lincoln then on to the hospital in Wichita, Kansas. The doctors in Wichita were nice but they weren’t quite sure of us especially since we had taken Mike hunting just 2 weeks after a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor. Mike still had the staples in his head from ear to ear. The doc was in disbelief and kept saying “What do you mean he went hunting…he has staples in his head!” Poor guy.
Mike went home to be with the Lord on November 28, 2018, just 10 days after the hunt. He left a big hole in our lives but also one full of fun adventures and memories to cherish.
Several months after the hunt in call with Chris, he had mentioned that he had written to duck call maker, Josh Raggio of Raggio Custom Calls, about using one of his calls on this hunt and how it changed his life. Josh talked about our hunt on a podcast, and I got to thinking…how great it would be to commemorate this hunt with a set of duck calls made by Josh. After a flurry of calls, Josh set to work. I decided on 12 calls. Josh made them as sister calls all out of the same block of wood. Each a little different but all related.
Time was short to get them made as I was taking the boys back to the Honey Hole for a memorial hunt to honor Mike and I was planning to give everyone their special duck call. I was also taking my husband, Stuart, and sons, Kevin and Michael, to commemorate the man who to all of us was friend, business partner, brother from another mother, and second dad. Stuart, Kevin and Michael were all instrumental in helping me manage the gun club while I was helping care for Mike in his final year.
As the hunt was getting closer, Josh and I had been in contact and the calls were finished! However, as the date was getting closer, I kept waiting for the calls. I texted Josh in early December to ask when they would arrive. It was with a sinking feeling and knots in the stomach began as I learned Josh had already shipped the calls…in November. He was able to trace it back and had a confirmation of delivery. I never received the calls. I talked to my carrier. We can do that in the country as we get to know our mail carriers and regular delivery drivers. She remembered the box and placing it in my mailbox. It was gone! The duck calls were gone!
We went back to the Honey Hole on December 21, 2019 for the memorial hunt. Hunting was not as great, but it was a great lesson for the boys that sometimes you don’t get as plentiful a hunt as we did with their dad. We also took the time to spread some of Mike’s ashes in this special place called the Honey Hole. It was a special time with special friends all in honor of a man who was instrumental in all our lives in one way or another.
I didn’t say anything to the boys or the group about the missing calls. Josh was busy remaking them. Bless him! In the meantime, I was planning the Mike Tyson Memorial Crawfish Boil and Shoot in 2020 on the sporting clays course I installed in Mike’s memory and would give them the calls at the crawfish boil. Not everyone was able to attend but that was okay. The lost calls gave me the opportunity to share Mike, the hunt, and the clubs story with all our new friends coming to the club to shoot on the Mike Tyson Memorial Sporting Clays Course at Austin Gun Club.
I set aside the call I was going to give Chris as I knew I would be hunting with him again and would wait. That hunt happened this past weekend as with Judy & Shaka as I headed for Durant, Oklahoma. Hunting was hard with a cold front coming through the first night with rain during the night and a strong wind, but I think it was the Bald Eagle that stayed around our duck pond for hours that kept the ducks away. We got a few but the lull between volleys gave us a lot of time to talk, catch up, share stories, and towards the end of this hunt I gave Chris his duck call. It was a very special moment. Chris made the call sing!
For day two, we went to the Honey Hole. I told Chris it was okay if we didn’t hunt there, but I think he knew I needed to spend time there. The ducks were there, but before legal shooting as we had a full moon. It was awesome listening to them land, the swoosh of their wings, the ripples on the water. However, once legal shooting time arrived, the birds were sparce. We had onesies and pairs drop in throughout the morning. During the lulls, we again had a time to reminisce about that hunt in 2018. We shared stories of Mike and how he changed each of our lives. Caught up on each of our lives and the lives of our families. Even though Chris only met Mike once, Mike profoundly changed his life. Mike had that affect on those he met.
It is hunts like these that remind me how thankful I am for good friends. I am blessed in my friends who I know will be there when needed. Chris and Judy, thank you for the hunts of a lifetime! You gave a very special man one last hunt of a lifetime that will live on in the memory of all of us who were there. You both are blessing to me and to all the lives you touch daily. Thank you!
This past weekend, I was thankful to be back at the Honey Hole and spending the day with good friends both here and in spirit while again being reminded…Sometimes it’s not about the quantity of the harvest, but the quality of the time spent together. Simply put, sometimes a hunt is more than just a hunt.