Ron Smith and wife Lisa sat in their camouflage aluminum skiff in an Everglades marsh on a recent morning, looking for targets on the horizon. Ron cradled his shotgun, on the alert for ducks descending to the decoys he had scattered about the slough. Lisa was curled up with jackets and quilts, unarmed.
“I think it’s beautiful out here,” Lisa said. “It’s quiet. You can chit-chat. You can sleep in the boat.”
Smith, a Pembroke Pines insurance agent and native South Floridian, has been hunting ducks in the region for more than 30 years. Lisa shot one duck a long time ago and that was enough for her; she just enjoys being outdoors with her husband.
“I used to deer hunt,” Ron said as he scanned the early morning sky. “You’d be gone two or three days. Then we had our first child. I tried duck hunting after my son was born, and it just grabbed me. With duck hunting, you’re home before they wake up.”
Suddenly, two ring-necked ducks swooped into the small pond and dived head-first into a stand of lily pads before Ron could get off a shot. By the time they took off again, they were out of range of his 12-gauge. He shook his head, ruing the still beauty of the morning.
“One of the worst things in duck hunting is no wind, and here we are without a breath of air,” he said. “The wind makes them get up more.”
He had barely finished the sentence when three more “ringers” made final approach on the slough. He fired and missed. A few minutes later came three more, which he also missed. But he didn’t seem particularly upset about it.
“When you get the ducks in the decoys, everything else is anti-climactic,” he said. “I really like the decoys.”
Smith makes all of his own decoys out of wood, cork, and even coconut shells and he paints them by hand. Most are full-bodied and life-like, but he also fashions Y-boards — multiple duck silhouettes carved from plywood that sit on a floating platform. He has sold many to fellow duck hunters.
“I don’t have any nice decoys because, by the time I finish it, somebody wants them,” he said.
Almost as much as hunting ducks and making decoys, Ron says he enjoys photographing them.
“I can’t tell you how many times I come out here and the sun lights the place up gold and I put my gun down and pick up my camera,” he said.
Lisa didn’t comment; she was snoozing peacefully.
About a quarter of an hour passed before two more ringers zoomed in. Ron fired and splashed one about 50 feet from the blind. It seemed the morning stillness might be beneficial after all.
“They are coming in good this morning,” he said.
Over the next hour, Ron bagged four more ring-necked ducks — only one shy of his limit of six. He intended to finish the job — in order to have plenty of garlicky duck skewers for dinner. But a six-foot alligator swam into the slough, and appeared to be making a beeline for one of the downed birds.
Ron cranked the long-shaft “go-deviL” outboard on the skiff, rousing Lisa, and steered the boat into the slough to head off the hungry gator. The reptile disappeared below the surface, and the couple had to idle around a bit before Lisa found and plucked three ducks from the water. They couldn’t find the other two; perhaps the gator had beaten them to it.
“Now I can say I’ve been duck hunting today, and I got three ducks,” Lisa joked.
It was mid-morning and time for Ron to head to work. The couple gathered up the decoys and motored about 10 minutes to the boat ramp on Alligator Alley. They planned to make several more trips before the Jan. 27 end of the hunting season.