Duck hunting

Josh Peterson throws duck decoys in late November into Ocean Lake.

I like to think I’m brave. But I’m not.

I fight it. After college I moved to Central America by myself. A few months after starting at the Star-Tribune, a photographer and I packed ourselves to the base of Gannett Peak.

But when things go wrong, and, say, a tiny boat I’m in starts filling with water as waves crash against its side at the end of November, I do what any logical person does: grip the knee of the person next to me until my knuckles turn white.

It doesn’t help. I know it doesn’t. But in the moment, it’s all I’ve got.

Our duck hunting trip after Thanksgiving started under crisp navy-blue skies painted with streaks of red and orange. Ocean Lake between Riverton and Lander was like glass as we motored from shore to a cattail-covered inlet.

Clouds built on the horizon, but my husband assured me they likely weren’t moving our way.

He was wrong.

As the wall of angry gray kept approaching, I joked with Josh and his brother, Jacob, that we should wait a little longer for the storm to really hit so we had to motor back in gale-force winds, sinking our boat.

“That would be a real adventure,” I said, secure in the fact that the seasoned outdoorsmen wouldn’t let us wait that long anyway.

The wind picked up quicker than we thought, and we grabbed the duck decoys and loaded birds, guns and ourselves in the tin boat that sat no more than 12 inches above the water.

Josh drove and I sat squeezed next to Jacob, our backs facing the incoming wind and waves.

It was a little funny at first. Water blasted Josh in the face and crashed into our backs. Then we started to tilt to the left, a wave crashed over the side, and water poured.

“Are we going to capsize?” I asked in my calmest voice.

“Hopefully not,” Josh said, squinting into the water.

More waves. More tilting. More water.

I grabbed Jacob’s knee.

I blame reflexes.

“Sorry man,” I said, with no plans of letting go.

Even in the moment, I knew grabbing onto something wasn’t going to prevent us from tipping. It wouldn’t even prevent me from going overboard. But somehow it made me feel better.

More waves. More tilting. More water.

“If we sink, are we going to die?”

I always like to ask, just in case.

“Hopefully not,” Josh said. “Don’t you trust your boat captain?”

“It’s a really little boat,” was all I could say.

I wasn’t really worried we’d die. We were wearing waders which would fill with water, but we had life jackets on. We would lose our shotguns, and more money than I’d like to admit in camera equipment. But we’d probably survive.

Then the motor quit.

More waves. More water. More tilting. And Jacob now rowing us into the wind.

Within a stone’s throw of shore, the storm only growing stronger and water trickling down my back, I decided it was kind of funny again.

We’d survived. At some point I’d even let go of Jacob’s knee. And I was growing braver in my head with every passing minute.

“For the record, I didn’t actually think we’d die.”

“Sure,” they both said, laughing.

Maybe someday I’ll just embrace my cowardice. Or get better at hiding it.

Follow managing editor Christine Peterson on Twitter @PetersonOutside

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Managing Editor

A Casper native, Christine Peterson started as a Star-Tribune intern in 2002. She has covered outdoor recreation, the environment and wildlife since 2010, and became managing editor in 2015. If not tracking bears or elk on assignment, she's chasing trout.

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