Saturday, September 25, 2021

Outlaw Duck Hunters

Author’s Note: It’s hard to believe that my 1970’s childhood was a half a century ago. As I look back, which I seem to do as time passes with increasing frequency, I cannot help but thinking:

Life Adirondack for kids growing up was so much simpler back then. We didn’t get criminal arrest records for every heinous kid crime, like playing down by the river and chucking a few rocks at some ducks. Police gave kids stern warnings. When it came to kid enforcement, our MOMS were the law!

     If I & my neighborhood crew of Adirondack Outlaws had been held to the same societal standards for kids that exist today, by the time we were teenagers, we’d have all collectively been sent to reform school, never again to see light of day.”

My first brush with the law came when I was just 10.  Fresh out of 5th Grade, I still had a fairly clean record.  No outstanding warrants, no arrests, no convictions.

It all started innocently enough.  I was outdoors playing with my friends.  We didn’t have smart phones in our pockets.  Our social media network was bikes.

My family had moved to Saranac Lake from Lake Placid the previous summer. We lived in the big stone house on the corner of Stevenson Lane. It’s still there. Our yard bordered the river.  Stevenson Lane ended in a dead end.  Mom always baked cookies. A great place for three boys with bikes to hang out.

Kris and Billy had pedaled over Helen Hill from town. Eventually bored with popping wheelies, racing down the Stevenson Lane hill with no hands, “burning rubber” and “skidding out”, we ditched bikes out behind the garage and headed for the river to explore and chuck rocks.

There are all kinds of good stationary targets by a river for three boys chucking rocks.  We took aim at all of them.  We hit more than a few.   Suddenly, bobbing down river- a new target appeared.

“Ducks!”

Without hesitation, we took aim and fired.

In Saranac Lake at that time, on the river there were two kinds of ducks.  Regular ducks, and town ducks.  The way to tell regular ducks from town ducks was simple.  Town ducks were part white, and grown-ups clipped their wings so they never flew anywhere.

duck

A “regular” duck

Important facts, well known by Adirondack Outlaw boys. These ducks had white on them. We were knowingly pegging rocks at town ducks. We weren’t concerned about that at the time. We just kept on chucking.

It’s still a bit unclear to me exactly what happened next.  I didn’t even have the best arm among us.  But somehow, in the end, it all ended up pinned on me.

Somehow, at some point, someone managed to actually hit one of those town ducks.  I suppose now, in retrospect, that was likely to happen.

When it did, in our defense, we immediately stopped chucking rocks.  Three boys stood and watched momentarily in stunned disbelief as what had only moments before been a town duck was now a white bobber floating slowly down river.

“What do we do now?”  We had to act fast.

“Quick! before it Gets away.!”

We raced to the garage, grabbed our bikes, and peeled out across the Pine Street Bridge.

outlaw duck hunters

The scene of the “crime.”

Route 3 follows the river pretty close for quite a ways along that stretch.  We made a mad dash out of town, catching glimpses of our quarry on the water as we went.

At some point finally, we got ahead of the duck.  We ditched our bikes and crashed down through the bushes towards a bend in the river.

Old Man Quisnell owned a small bait shop and game farm at the dead end at the top of my street.  His bait ponds and game pens overlooked the river at just about that point. I am not sure what his role was in town ducks- but at that moment, he was standing above us on the far shore, taking aim.

“Pop!” “Pop!”  “Pop!”  Now we were the target!

Old Man Quisnell was pointing some sort of pellet or air rifle.  Or maybe a BB gun. We didn’t stick around to find out. He was pointing, yelling and firing rounds all at once!  We scrambled back up the slope in a hasty retreat.

Back on our bikes, we escaped up Route 3, crossed the bridge, to the relative safety my house.

At that point, it was clear- every man for himself.  Kris and Billy kept right on going.  I was clearly on my own.  I hid my bike in the garage and went inside to lay low in my room.

Mom was in the kitchen.

“Where’s Kris and Billy?  I’m made chocolate chips.”

“Uh- they had to go home.  I’m going up to my room.”

I grabbed a couple of cookies and started up the back stairs.

The doorbell rang.  I heard a male voice.  Then my mom’s voice.  I peaked down the stairs.

Gulp!   The police!

“Dick, come down here!”

“Yes Mom.”

My first interrogation.  I held up pretty well, denied everything.  I did not crack.  The officer apparently bought it, and left.  I breathed a guilty sigh of relief and turned back towards my room.

“Not so fast.”

Uh- OH!  Apparently, Mom wasn’t so easily convinced.

Moms are skilled interrogators. I was no match.  Mom turned up the heat. I finally cracked, broke down and confessed.  I pleaded for leniency.

“But Mom-I’m sorry.  It was an accident.  We didn’t mean it.” I could tell, she wasn’t buying it.

I tried deflection.

“But Mr. Quisnell was SHOOTING at us!  Shouldn’t HE be in trouble?”

Judge Mom wasn’t swayed, showed no mercy.  She dialed the police.

The Trooper returned.  Turned in by my own Mom, to the real law! I was10!

I had no option.  My own Mom gave me up.  I confessed.

“It was me.  I did it.  I killed the town duck.”

The Trooper frowned sternly.

“I’ve got my eye on you now.  Anything like this ever happens again- you’ll be coming with me.”  Then Mom apologized, thanked him, and he once again left.

I went to my room.  Stayed there awhile.  Apparently, Mom later went up the street and gave Old Man Quisnell a few verbal shots of her own.  But I didn’t find out about that until several years later.

Billy later died in a car crash.  I was home on leave from the Army when it happened and paid my respects.  I’m sure Mr. Quisnell has long since passed.  I don’t know what ever happened to Kris.

Me?  I’m an Adirondack Outlaw. Living life on the lam.  Until our trails cross again, I’ll finish with one important piece of advice:

Alibis don’t work on Moms!

The story of my life. Every Adirondack boy knows it.

**********

duck hunter

 

 

 

 

 

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Richard Monroe

Lifelong NYS resident. Raised in Saranac Lake. Cornell graduate(ROTC). Army veteran, Airborne/Ranger qualified, 10th Mtn Div, stints in Honduras and with JTF VI. 3rd degree Black Belt; 3x cancer survivor; published writer with several featured stories in Adirondack Life Magazine. Residing in Watertown NY with wife Robin & our 3 adult children. Loving Life. Living in the Day I am in.




23 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    “The good old days”, i grew up in the 70’s/80’s running all over the woods, streams, fishing, swimming, hunting, skiing…we all miss the simplier days, 2 channels on tv, 3 radio stations, and living outdoors with friends on the run. tiny ski tow in newcomb, Teddy running it. thank god for Teddy and the ski tow it got mighty boring in newcomb in winter at times as kids.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Greetings Nathan-Thanks for reading & sharing. “At times boring in winter?!” I bet! I remember those long strings of -30F Jan/Feb days, when our hair froze to our heads on the morning walk to school, & all we had to look forward to after was our daily afternoon date with the driveway and snow shovel. Better be finished before Dad got home! I’m sure our SL version of Teddy & a ski tow was there for the cool kids up on Mt. Pisgah. That was never me. Though I think my younger brother finally convinced Dad to invest in some ski gear & eventually gained status. When I wasn’t busy serving out another sentence confined to my room or out brushing snow off the wood pile to split/stack more firewood, we built our own jumps and a sliding hill toboggan run across the street on Carpenter’s Hill. That and throwing snowballs at cars from our perch overlooking Main Street from the woods up on Helen Hill. The kid with the guts to land one on a cop car was hero for a week! That was never me, of course… (There may still be warrants). Great memories.

      • nathan says:

        omg hell yeah, cop car was always the grand prize snowball barrage, tossing from cliffs over road, snowmen, food coloring and painting them from spray bottles and numb hands..please lets not talk about fire wood, warms you twice cutting it and burning it.

      • JohnL says:

        We used to ‘bomb cars’ with snowballs all winter . I personally think it’s pretty sad that I haven’t had my car hit by a snowball, or even thrown at, in probably 30 years. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time some kid took a shot at my car. Sad. They’re missing out on a lot of fun these days.

        • nathan says:

          they would have to turn off the video games and/or cell phone. Very sadly the vast majority of kids today just dont go outside much, usually kicking and fighting out the door.they dont throw snowbalss or make snowmen. The couch potato generation just obese and lazy…too many parents are not much better goto work, flop in front of tv. imagine back in the 70’s hiring someone to mow your lawn?? if it happened you hired a kid to mow it!!! now you couldnt find a kid to mow a lawn for money$$$

          • JohnL says:

            Speaking of paying someone to mow your lawn. In my (very) small town, on any given day, there are at least a dozen PU trucks with empty trailers parked on the city streets. The drivers are mowing someones lawn. Not their own, obviously. They are not only a testament to today’s living, but also a hinderance to the smooth flow of traffic in the town.

  2. What did your Dad say when he got home?

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Ha! Can’t repeat Dad’s words here! And thus the picture of me out by the wood splitter. Splitting/stacking firewood for the winter…that and groundation. My eternal punishments.

  3. Tim says:

    I spent my boyhood summers at the Jersey shore. We used to throw rocks at seagulls. One day I killed one and felt horrible. Of course, nobody cared about seagulls. The incident later became part of my application for conscientious objector during the draft.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thanks for sharing your memory and experience Tim. While I never quite became a conscientious objector- as to the immediate feeling of guilt as a kid chucking rocks- I can certainly relate. I still remember us all sort of standing there momentarily in shock. I don’t think 10 year old kids chucking rocks ever really think through the potential impact on their targets. Or perhaps, on themselves.

  4. ADK Anne says:

    I grew up in the late 40s to early 50s and won’t tell you some of the things we did. We never killed anything but we got into a lot of mischief.

  5. Big Burly says:

    Gr8 writing. Active with an imagination, any kid will inevitably find mischief beckons irresistibly. The more spectacular the mischief, the less the alibi stood up. Despite all that, many positive achievements and contributions to community the rest of my life — so far — HA!. Living in the day … a saying I borrow with permission.

  6. Bill Hutchens says:

    WOW – Terrific!

  7. Wally Elton Wally Elton says:

    Grew up in a small village in western NYS. One winter around the same age, a friend and I were between two buildings on the main street after dark. The buildings prevented us front seeing vehicles coming along the street until they were right in front of us, but we heard them coming. We practiced throwing snowballs high in the air based on the sound to see how close we could come. The first ones were way off. But we got better. Finally we both through one up there and they came down squarely on the roof of the vehicle – which at the last instant we saw was the village police car. We ran and escaped via various backyards. I don’t know whether the police stopped or perhaps circles the block. There were no consequences, but I lived in fear of a knock on the door or being spotted on my walk to school (buses were just for kids out on the surrounding farms then) for a long time. Nothing died so not on the same scale, but I still feel the guilt.

  8. nathan says:

    Monroe thank you, been a long time thinking about as a kid tossing snowballs, snowball wars, using the awesome snowblock form you stuffed with snow and made blocks and built forts, i forget the name of those hollow blocks you had to stuff with snow to make a “cinder block of snow” , but we made huge castles, sometimes 2 stories high. When we used to get monster amounts of snow…remember those 10-12 foot snow banks along the road?? I loved it as a kid, every road trip was like doing a bobsled run with the huge snow banks. 3-4 foot snow storms used to be common and never melted until march..roads were plowed and sanded (no salt), roads slowly building up a solid layer of thick sandy crust you drove above the roads…spring was hell with the ice pot holes on the roads until all melted back down to the pavement..

    The old memories of how it used to be living in the adirondack’s, people today think you are lying about how much snow, build up and how cold it used to be. Weather today is so different, its much much easier winters in every way, i may never see snowshoing on 6-7 feet of built up snow hunting rabbits.(what rabbits nowadays?)

  9. JB says:

    Richard, you are officially the king of nostalgic recollections! Hey, it makes perfect sense. Northern New York is a particularly nostalgic place. I’m not sure if it is the changing seasons, the hilly expanses mixed hardwood forests, the colonial history, etc., but there is certainly something in the air here. Believe it or not, kids still played outside all the way up through the ’90s. Then, we got graphical user interface PCs and cellphones, the production of consumer electronics became ever more sophisticated, and it was all downhill from there. I still refuse to own a smartphone (despite knowing way too much for my own good about things like packet-switched network topology and domain-specific deterministic context-free grammars and Liskov’s substitution principle of polymorphic inheritance and heuristic pycnophylactic interpolation), and I will refuse to do so for as long as they still keep manufacturing flip phones for American networks, which will probably not be long.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you JB. Pretty cool to “officially” be dubbed King of anything! I have absolutely no clue what most of that technical stuff you mention is, but in the end, I’m with you. I still play outside. I still carry a flip phone.

  10. Tim White says:

    Thank you. I sense a little of my adventurous and rebellious self while also watching the very scenerios unfold before my eyes in my now 11 and 12 year old sons. (only it is airsoft guns and their brothers fair ducks) An article written in good clean context allowing me a smile before bed. Thank you and THANK YOU for your service.

    • Richard Monroe Richard Monroe says:

      Thank you Tim, Wally, Nathan, ADK Anne, JB, and everyone for all of your great shared childhood memories & comments. Folks sure covered a lot of ground on this one! Everything from fishing to snowball wars & cop cars, lawn mowing, cell phone technology, & airsoft gun “duck” hunts. Sounds to me like we’ve got generations of Adirondack Outlaws amongst us! We are all blessed with the gift of having grown up Adirondack. Until our trails cross again, be well & safe. Thanks for reading my stories.

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