Creative Propulsion

I thought we might see a shoveler or two, but this wasn't the species I had in mind.

"Would you look at that?" my duck-hunting partner said, indicating an approaching lone canoeist.

"Well, cut my legs off and call me shorty," I replied. "He's paddling with a dadgum shovel!"

Sure enough, the unknown waterfowler propelled his canoe with a familiar implement normally reserved for gardening and cleaning kennels. We watched raptly as he moved smoothly along, completely content with his innovation.

Seeing such, I was reminded of various paddle substitutes I've employed myself. Never, I recalled, had I ever used a shovel to move a boat. Not that I wouldn't, mind you. There's just never been one aboard when I needed it.

And oh, the times I've needed one. You see, paddling is an integral part of my waterfowling existence. Most of the time, I'm without the services of an outboard motor, either on waters where one is impractical or aboard vessels on which the "mechanics" rarely function properly. It's standard -- I either have no use for a motor or the one I have doesn't work.

Knowing their importance, you might think I'd pay more attention to my paddles. But no, I forget them, break them and regularly lose them. Hence, like that aforementioned "shoveler," I must often be creative.

For instance, I've often used the tops of coolers as emergency paddles. They work fine, except for two factors. If they're made of Styrofoam rather than metal or plastic, they usually shatter into a million pieces after a few strokes. Second, you must lean far out over the bow to use them, putting yourself within kissing distance of snakes and alligators. I once had a head-on collision with a cypress stump while paddling and watching for critters instead of where I was going.

Brooms have also served me as paddles. They actually do a fair job, provided the boat is lightweight and time is not of the essence. A broom normally gets me back to the ramp in just a few hours. "Brooming" a big old wooden skiff full of duck-hunting gear is another matter. Like the time I arrived at the landing sporting a long white beard and out-of-style clothing. My son met me in his new pickup truck. He was 4 years old when I left home.

Shotgun stocks, I've found, make usable paddles as well. Barrels, too, might be creatively employed as in-a-pinch boat poles. Be advised, though, it's best to remove the mud before the next flock pitches in.

I once watched helplessly as my grandfather broke our only paddle on a stump while dispatching a water moccasin. Sadly, there was no cooler or broom aboard, and the water was a few inches too deep for barrel-poling. Our old, worn-out 5-horse Firestone, of course, had died long before. We just sat there, becalmed, as the mallards and teal dropped in, just out of range.

"Bobby," said Daddy Buck, "You ever hear me cuss before?"

I shook my 9-year-old head.

"Well, get ready, boy," he cautioned. "Now's the time."

Oh, the vocabulary lesson I learned that day.

What a shame we didn't know about shovels back then. The old man had three in the tool shed at home.

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