Good Hunting Buddies and Makeshift Gear

I’d bought a brand-new camo belly boat for duck hunting—one of the first models that involved more than a Cordura-covered truck-tire inner tube—and my buddy Lee Davis and I had scouted the perfect duck swamp to give belly-boat hunting a whirl. He’d lashed a sky-blue boat cushion into the donut hole of a used inner tube from an 18-wheeler. “I got up at three o’clock in the morning for this hunt, and you show up with a yard-sale boat?” He just grinned and easily bore it. “Just tough it out.” Just tough it out. That was his refrain, year after year. His decoys were anchored with a mishmash of U-bolts and railroad spikes. Like many of us, I’ve wound up with a ridiculous amount of gear over the years, and I can’t wrap my head around why I keep every worn-out and outdated doodad. Wet, the jacket must have weighed 15 pounds, and I’m convinced that he wore it long after he probably wanted to. Same thing with the cotton long johns and the Levi’s jeans under his waders. I’d do the same, grunting, as he’d stop to turn around and shine that big Rayovac in my eyes and call out, “You coming, tough guy?” Lee Davis would never spring for fancy bird pants, but he would love Banded’s Tall Grass Oil Cotton Chaps ($150; banded.com).
duck hunting buddies illustration
Makeshift gear on the outside came to symbolize steely resolve on the inside.

It was his jackleg float tube that really drove me crazy. I’d bought a brand-new camo belly boat for duck hunting—one of the first models that involved more than a Cordura-covered truck-tire inner tube—and my buddy Lee Davis and I had scouted the perfect duck swamp to give belly-boat hunting a whirl. When Davis showed up in the dark, however, he toted a Beverly Hillbillies version of my ride. He’d lashed a sky-blue boat cushion into the donut hole of a used inner tube from an 18-wheeler.

“Really, dude?” I said. “I got up at three o’clock in the morning for this hunt, and you show up with a yard-sale boat?”

He just grinned and easily bore it. Davis was used to being chided for leaning on gumption rather than gear. “Man, you don’t need all that new stuff,” he’d say. “Just tough it out.”

Just tough it out. That was his refrain, year after year. Long after the rest of the world had shifted to polypropylene thermal underwear, Davis sported 100 percent cotton waffle weave, despite the fact they stank like a goat’s belly after a few hours of hunting. He looked like the lumberjack on those paper towel rolls. I had to have every new flashlight on the market, while Davis was happy with his Rayovac that ate D batteries like jerky snacks. His decoys were anchored with a mishmash of U-bolts and railroad spikes. I swear I remember him once tying a decoy line to a can of beanie weenies. I spent a lot of time with Davis, standing in the dark, shaking my head.

I had Davis on my mind recently for a couple of reasons. For starters, I’d just finished cleaning up the last basement-floor mountain of hunting gear—a nearly waist-high pile of decoys, boots, treestand climbing sticks, fetid clothing, and candy bar wrappers that had accumulated like battery-terminal corrosion over the last few months. Like many of us, I’ve wound up with a ridiculous amount of gear over the years, and I can’t wrap my head around why I keep every worn-out and outdated doodad.

In addition to postseason gear sorting, I’d also recently wrapped up reading a book about the ill-fated Donner Party, the Oregon Trail migrants who were snowed in along the High Sierras. They walked until their…

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