There aren’t many people around who have seen as many sunrises as 94-year-old Pete Arnold has.
Some of those were during his three-year stint in the Navy, serving as a pharmacist’s mate in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Many more sunrises have been spent out in a blind during his 81 years of hunting.
CWA was lucky enough to host Pete and his son, Peter Arnold Jr., at a Veteran’s Hunt at our Denverton property this December. And though the elder Arnold didn’t get any birds, his son, a four-year Coast Guard veteran, bagged four and sailed a fifth off to another blind. It was a successful morning for the father-son duo who’ve been going out on hunts together for 55 years.
Pete Sr. wrote up an account of his experience that morning and we present that here:
It started with a CWA flier that showed up in my emails back in September describing, among other things, its program for veteran hunts. I’d seen them in past fliers through the years and enjoyed the photos of happy young vet participants with ducks around their necks. It is always a heart-warming sight, but, although I am a veteran myself, I’d never thought of the program ever having anything to do with me.
Not until this year, which finds me limited in several ways, chief among them limited in ability to move at 94, limited as to how far I can drive and limited in ability to spend much of anything on hunting. So reading this flier, I thought to myself, “Heck I am a veteran, but out of of the Navy for 72 years and counting.” A pretty damned grizzled vet compared to the 22-year-olds, but one with an honorable discharge, which CWA requires. While mine was a not very distinguished career (positive only in the form of the Good Conduct Medal, meaning in three years the Navy had never caught me doing things of which it disapproved), neither had I screwed up too badly (my only transgression that the Navy knew about was my failure to salute some army major while on liberty in Salt Lake City in 1944. For that crime I was confined to base for two weeks. That was not a grave enough crime to go on my service record, and I came back to civilian life pure as the driven snow.)
So, I checked with Jeff Smith and found out I was indeed eligible, and he turned me over to Mike Peeters, who is in charge of the veteran’s hunt program. Mike needed proof of my honorable discharge, so I sent him a copy of the original, complete with an engraving of a battleship with a bone in its teeth, certifying that Peter Arnold, Pharmacist’s Mate 2/c had faithfully served three years and was hereby honorably kicked out of the service to go do whatever he wanted.
Then I realized that someone was going to have to get me to the hunt and back, so I emailed Mike and asked if there would be room for my son Pete. Mike replied that he would try to find a way to accommodate him, but he sounded pessimistic. Then I told him that Pete was a Coast Guard veteran and that cleared that hurdle – Pete was included as yet another vet.
I applied for the December 14-15 hunt at the Denverton Club, and on Friday afternoon Pete drove me down from Grass Valley to the northeast end of the Suisun Marsh. Never having been there we almost overshot Denverton Road where the club is, but we made it.
There were to be ten of us vets invited, and my son and I were probably fifth of sixth to arrive. It was impossible for me to sort out guests from volunteers, so I hope no one gets his feathers ruffled by that failure.
We were shown our room which had a tag taped on the door: “P. Arnold – VIP; P Arnold Jr; D Casey.” The room had three comfortable beds, two of them double-deckers. I opted for the single, fearing what might happen when I’d have to get up at night as I always do.
Then back to the living area to meet and gab with everyone, beers and cokes in hand. Big Howard Coolidge bent over the stove when he wasn’t checking the barbecue outside. Someone brought in broiled mushroom caps stuffed with elk burger, and someone else some BBQ’d white tail venison from a Wisconsin hunt. Mighty fine appetizers. Dinner was massive hamburgers and a sea food/deviled egg salad in a huge bowl. That did not last long.
Once settled in, I got to talking to Mike Peeters about how the selection process for applicants. He told me that for this particular hunt he had received 200 applications. He then went through a literal screening. The coarsest grid would contain anyone who was a vet of WWII – in this case only me. Then the next would be anyone who had been in the Korean conflict – so far only one, and that in another hunt. Then Viet Nam vets, then Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Then the next step was to try to pick two members of each of the five services – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. For you Coasties, Mike has had only three applications for all the hunts so far, so you should really think about tossing your hat in the ring next season.
So that is how the ten of us wound up that Friday night in the Denverton club house, a pretty drab looking structure on the outside but full of cheer and hospitality within. I was probably the first to hit the sack, but a couple of the younger guys were up until almost midnight.
Up at five to coffee and crullers, put on waders (last time I did that was three years ago, and let me tell you it becomes a really hard task when you reach this age.) Then off with Mike Darzinski by car to the sign for the blind we were to shoot. The blind is a floater and sits there a good 200 yards from the road, so Mike and Pete waded out and brought it back for me to board. Then waded back with me as the only passenger. I think I know what Cleopatra must have felt like being barged on the Nile. The bind floats on a big block of rigid foam with a solid deck on the surface, very stable, and big enough to hold three hunters very comfortably, either standing or sitting, with wire walls thatched with tule to standing height. Once back at the blind’s site, they anchored it with four poles driven into the bottom and tied to it. Mighty fine for old and spavined gaffers like me to get out to the shooting ground and back
Dawn, as always, was slow in coming. When faint light showed on the eastern horizon both Pete and I were convinced the sun was about to come up in the west. It is so easy to become disoriented in a new hunting area. About five minutes before shooting time a big cock sprig floated in on set wings, didn’t like the decoys, and left. He was the one big bird for the entire morning – the rest were teal and spoonies, all passing shots too quick for me to get up to shoot at, so Pete and Mike did all the firing. Shoot time ends at noon, and we milked out every last second of the time before giving up and having my bargemen pull the blind back to the car, walk it back out to its site and walk back again. With that blind walk Pete got plenty of exercise plus retrieving, walking a good 250 yards after one crip and spending four extra shots trying to ground sluice it. Each time he shot the pattern would be all around the bird, but it in a magic circle where no shot touched it. Would have been an expensive spoonie if CWA had not supplied the ammo. It was still an expensive spoonie.
Our day’s bag was four in hand, a greenwing, a cinnamon and two spoonies, plus one sailer that hunters in another blind picked up. The individual bags for everyone was not much more, predominantly teal and spoonies, with one gad and two widgeon as the only “big” birds.
We gathered for one last shot of the vet’s gang together and then each received a CWA tote bag containing a cap, a commemorative tee shirt, a mini flashlight and several other mementos – as if we needed anything else to remind us of the good time we had had. Thank you CWA for this program, thank you all you volunteers who made things happen. A day maybe short on ducks but long, long on a good time. And you Coast Guard vets, get ready to get chosen for the 2019-20 season!