At 6:45 AM on any other Thursday in when it’s this cold, you could find me near comatose under a down comforter in my Brooklyn apartment. But today I’m out in the wilds of Western Minnesota, hunched over in a flat-bottomed duck boat beached in the reeds of a marsh. To my left sits Mike Anderson, the reigning world champion duck caller. To my right are three beautiful women with guns. Paige Duke is Miss Sprint Cup—you’ve see her on TV handing out race trophies on Sunday; Melisa Canady is a Minnesota sportswoman; and Kelly Havey is a Minneapolis-based model who just graced the pages of Maxim’s September issue.
My head is ringing. Beside the fact that Benelli and Browning 20-gauges are being fired mere inches from my ears, up until six hours ago, we were all hunting cans of Coors. Does this situation seem just a bit strange, and totally awesome? It is. Such is the life of a Maxim editor.
I’m in Minnesota to observe a hunt put together by KrugerFarms.com, an online source for hunting and fishing gear that offers the advantage of pro advice from top guides. Kruger Farms is based near Minneapolis, but the fun happens up around a massive old farmhouse in the Prairie Pothole region of the state a couple of hours away. It’s where the Kruger crew leads hunts for waterfowl, pheasant, and deer on over 50,000 acres of farm ground, restored prairie, and wetlands. Throughout the year, a parade of guests from NASCAR drivers to Fortune 500 CEOs crash at the farmhouse to hunt and rub elbows with some of the nation’s elite guides, like Anderson, and share stories at a taxidermy-filled barroom they’ve built in the backyard.
This weekend’s gathering is for “women who hunt,” and over the course of a few hours, the three women in this boat will teach this newbie the basics of pursuing waterfowl while Anderson deploys a mind-blowing catalog of staccato honks and quacks. These women have skills, and pairing them with Anderson’s calls is a deadly combo. (He tells us that bird calling, at its essence, is just trying to make yourself sound like the sexiest thing on the water.) As soon as he starts to call, the birds fly in. Within minutes, a few “greenheads” meet their death.
In between sets of birds, the women poke fun at Allen’s weirder noises. “What are you calling, a chimp?” asks Havey. They talk about why they hunt. “I like the tradition of it,” explains Duke. “I grew up hunting with my Dad in Lancaster, South Carolina.”
As morning progresses and shadows shorten, the flocks of birds grow further apart, and my Blackberry begins to buzz with incoming e-mail from the office back in New York. But as soon as I reach into my pocket, our hunting party’s conversation grows hushed. A huge final wave of migrating Canadian Geese approaches from the northern horizon—forty or more of them. The cloud of bleeting geese drops toward our marsh, and several of the birds barrel-roll in the air, a strange gesture that makes the animals look like they’ve momentarily lost control of their dive.
“They call that ‘Maple Leafing,’” says Anderson in a hushed voice between calls. “It’s a real good sign that they’re not gonna scare off.”
Wings spread, the leading geese slow their approach. Just before they hit the water fifteen yards away, the women fire, reload, and fire again. A goose drops. It’s Duke’s.
“Yeah! My first goose! I’m gonna have somebody mount that, for sure.” she says. She surely will. You don’t mess around with a girl and her gun.