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I grew up on Gordon MacQuarrie’s tales of his literary creation, the Old Duck Hunters Association. When I began to browse through The Duck Hunter Diaries, Vol. 3, I was immediately struck by a number of similarities. Personally, I am not a duck hunter and I fail to see what is so damn glorious about standing around all day in weather that you would normally go to great lengths to avoid. But I can recognize that it takes a good writer to convey those scenes in such a way that it sounds fun and attractive, even majestic. Bill Burkett has the touch. When he writes about duck and goose hunting mornings, you don’t just read the words, you are there with him.
 

But there the similarity to Gordon MacQuarrie largely ends. With Burkett, you get the whole package. While “Mac” wrote magazine articles and newspaper columns for an audience that didn’t care to read about the disasters and disappointments which inevitably accompany a lifetime of being outdoors, Bill Burkett does indeed write as if in a personal diary. The breakdowns on the road, the frustrations of crawling along on icy highways before you ever get started hunting, the lowlifes who prey on hunters and their unattended vehicles, the joys and sorrows of good dogs, the frustrations from work and home, the occasional treachery of bosses and coworkers in the eternal game of office politics, the compromises as economic reality collides with our need for adequate equipment and reliable vehicles… these are things which cannot be forgotten just because you are in a duck blind. Bill doesn’t make a career out of whining and complaining; he writes of them as an occupational hazard of anyone who is a hardcore hunter. The end result of such writing is a true and complete picture of the outdoor life - warts and all. And, damned if it doesn’t make you want to be out there in the worst of it, right alongside him. That’s good writing, folks.

 

Another difference between Burkett and MacQuarrie and most other outdoor writers is that he writes truthfully and painfully about the end game of a duck hunter’s life. The cumulative injuries and ailments that make mobility, energy, and desire increasingly hard to summon up on those cold, snowy mornings. Sometimes, the spirit is willing but the tired old body just can’t manage it. MacQuarrie died at age 56, of a heart attack. He never experienced the decline of health and relationships and career. Hemingway died at age 61, already with serious health issues which prevented him from doing the things he loved all his life – and most critics would say that his best writing days were also behind him. With Bill Burkett, you get a man who is crazy enough about his passion that he gets out to the duck blinds even when he has to have assistance and when economic hardships make continued hunting a real sacrifice of other necessities. Relationships suffer too, as we are introduced to a number of characters and watch most of them exit the scene… while Burkett is still out there managing to get in some hunting time, somehow.

 

I don’t know Bill Burkett personally. Maybe in real life, he is a cranky old SOB, the kind of guy you would normally avoid if possible. But, in his writing about duck hunting, he represents something almost gone from our digitized, homogenized, protected contemporary society, a man struggling to be a decent human being, to take care of and nurture his family, and just getting by in hard times, all the while being, to the core, a duck hunter. If you read the Duck Hunter Diaries, be prepared to encounter some writing that will have you examining your own passions and values as well as compelling stories about early risings on wet and grey mornings when the ducks are flying.