The plan was in place; all 28 year-old duck hunter Chris Rockwell needed was a little luck.
He and his girlfriend of three years, Jessica Hunt, 30, set out on a waterfowl hunt at DGIF’s Hog Island WMA, on the James River near Surry. They checked in as ‘standby’ hunters—not having been selected for the lottery hunt. Diehard hunters who have done this know what a difficult proposition it is to get chosen as a ‘standby’ hunter at Hog Island. Nevertheless, the two were happy to be picked to hunt after a group of selected hunters did not show. It was the first time Chris Rockwell got lucky that day, but it would not be the last.
His secret plan to propose to Jessica Hunt was coming together. But this was only the first phase.
At hunting blind #2, the camouflaged couple settled in. Chris needed more luck, and he got it–when some tundra swans flew by offering Jessica a shot. She had a permit to hunt tundra swans issued by DGIF. You must apply for the permit; it’s not a sure bet to get one, but she had the tag and took a shot at one of the big white birds—she missed and they flew off.
Chris’ plans were momentarily dashed, but he hoped there would be another chance. Burning a hole in the chest pocket of his neoprene waders was a custom-made, inscribed ‘band’ – the kind wildlife biologists put on the legs of birds and use to track waterfowl populations — and a diamond engagement ring. He was ready to roll with his proposal, but Jessica would need to bag a bird for his plan to come together.
It was the end of January and the last scheduled waterfowl hunt of the year at Hog Island. Time was running out. The Wildlife Management Area Supervisor, John Randolph, reported seeing tundra swans wintering on the WMA after they made the 4,000 mile flight south from Alaska. Yet only one tundra swan had been killed so far the entire year at Hog Island—by Randolph himself–after he finally got picked for a lottery duck hunt after seven years of applying.
Before long, swans flew overhead again, and that’s when Blind #2 at Hog Island WMA got really interesting. Jessica made a great shot on one of the swans.
“The swan fell into some thick reeds, and I was able to get over there and slip the band over its leg without her seeing it,” Chris recounted. “My dog retrieved it, and she noticed it was banded as he was bringing it back to the hunting blind.”
The band was inscribed “Jessica Erin Hunt- Will You Marry Me – The Hunt is Over.”
She was excited, as bands are prized by waterfowl hunters. But Jessica didn’t notice what was written on it. She was ready to keep on hunting.
“You should check out the band, there might be some numbers on it,” Chris told her.
Jessica glanced at the band, exclaiming “What! Are you serious?” as Chris dropped to one knee. He slipped the ring on her finger. She said “Yes.”
“It was “Amazing… the best proposal ever,” Jessica related.
After the hunt, the happy couple wanted to let Randolph know all about the ‘proposal at blind 2’ but the hard-working supervisor was busy ferrying other hunters back from other blinds. Later, Chris sent a note to DGIF complimenting him on his work and letting him know what a great job he does at the WMA.
“The stars really lined up for him,” said Randolph, who was happy to find out about the couple’s success and engagement.
It might not be often, but duck hunters sometimes get very lucky, indeed. Chris and Jessica are planning an April, 2018, wedding.