Katie and Harper, both 15, hold guns above their shoulders as they make their way toward higher ground. The moon is gone, and the first light from the sun won’t be visible for another hour.
The two teenagers arrived long before dawn to take part in an annual youth duck hunt. One week before Missouri’s waterfowl hunting season opens, Eagle Bluff Conservation Area and other conservation areas around the state open their waterways to hunters younger than 18.
Hunting runs in the family for Katie and Harper, but this was the first duck hunt for both of them. As sunrise approached, Harper nestled into the tall grass with her father, Brian Wright. An array of decoy ducks filled the water in front of them. Further down the bank, crouched in the bushes, were Katie, her older brother Justin Radel and family friends Cody Bassuener and Jaime Vaughn.
And then they waited.
“The worst part was not shooting any ducks,” Katie said. “There were none, so we walked all that way for nothing.”
For four hours, the teenage hunters called to the ducks as they flew high overhead and sighed in defeat as they watched them land in the pond near the forest edge, far out of range.
But it would be wrong to call the trip a failure. As they crossed back through the marsh toward dry clothes and a waiting truck, both Harper and Katie laughed and talked fondly about going duck hunting again.