Thursday, December 11, 2008
Like father, like son
By Steve Bowman ESPNOutdoors.com
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The Conellas are not duck snobs, but they aren't proud of a stack of ducks with so many spoonbills. But this is what the day had to offer. They came to shoot ducks and you can't always be picky.
For starters, a friend provided the farm they were hunting that day, renowned for shooting teal and spoonbills during the early part of the season in the pit they were hunting that day, while the farm's other side was full of mallards and pintail.
Jeff Conella counts through a pile of blue wing teal and spoonbills, double-checking whether the limit is full or not.
During the late season, the species swap places, and the spoonie pit becomes a mallard pit.
"We'd obviously rather shoot good ducks,'' Bo Conella said. "But today, a duck is a duck."
The Conella's can't afford to be picky. They typically hunt about 90 miles east, but a couple of hurricanes, combined with a few more bureaucrats, have shut the hunting down for a large number of Louisiana duck hunters.
When Hurricanes Ike and Gustav blew through this summer, it took a huge toll on Louisiana's farmland. Many of the farmers (some of whom lease their land for duck hunting in the winter) tried to harvest and sell their crop, but it was too rotten.
That left them with only one option, which was to plow the crop under and collect the insurance, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers in the area took issue with that practice when duck season rolled around.
A lot of Louisiana sportsmen have been denied access to their duck hunting leases by the USFWS after agents declared certain lands leased to duck hunters to be "baited."
By law, what these farmers did was exactly baiting, but considering the circumstances, lawsuits have been filed and Louisiana congressional representation are speaking out against the government.
But no matter how the situation eventually plays out, it wasn't going to happen soon enough for the Conellas and the Duck Trek.
It doesn't matter where the Conella's hunt, as long as they hunt together.
Out of a 60-day season, the father and son combo will spend 30 of those days together.
"We have a close family,'' Bo Conella said. "My deal is, you do stuff with your kids so they will be more apt to not get into trouble. It's worked."
Those who know Jeff Conella would have to agree. For the past three years, he's become known as the likeable, always-smiling, always-helpful professional bass angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Holly, a black Labrador, peeks out of the blind.
He has an obvious love for the outdoors, honed over the years by tagging along with "Daddy."
"I just always remembered going,'' the younger Conella said. "But whatever Daddy was doing, that was the thing to do."
A lot of the "doing" was in a bass boat and duck blind.
"To us, it's always about the process,'' Jeff said. "Just going and being together. We never compete at anything. He wants me to be the one to catch a fish or shoot the duck, and I want him to be the one to do those things. We encourage each other."
To serve his point, on the first duck of the morning, Jeff and Bo raised up to shoot a single that drifted into the decoy spread, just a second after legal shooting time. Jeff shot the bird with one round, and quickly followed it up with "good shot, Dad."
The thing is, Dad didn't shoot.
Bo Conella didn't feel like he had to. Neither misses very often. But the elder Conella feels like he's had his day.
He started duck hunting in the 1950s.
"At that time, ducks weren't a problem," he said. "I've come through the best of times."
By the time Jeff was 5, he couldn't leave home without him.
"It was hard for me to leave him, because he would cry,'' Bo Conella said.
"I appreciate your telling that,'' Jeff joked, adding to the story. "When I was kid, we didn't have the money to buy shells, so we reloaded them. I remember drying the hulls from that day's hunt in the oven, so we could reload them for the next day."
In those days, there was a point system for ducks. Mallard drakes were 25 points, hens 90 and pintails 10.
"We wouldn't shoot blackjacks or scaup,'' Bo Conella said. "They were just trash ducks. We would pass on mallards to shoot the 10 pintails. It was hard to not shoot 10 pintails in those days.
"As far as I was concerned, we didn't think there would ever be an end to the ducks. But obviously things have changed."
What hasn't changed, though, is that the Conellas still shoot ducks every chance they get, and they do it together.
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