(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On Christmas morning before sunup, a fisherman wakes up keen with anticipation of a day of hunting sea ducks with his son and nephew. Their destination is a tiny ledge, Devil’s Hump, near Brown Cow Island, on the Maine coast.

The fisherman is known as a “hard man,” given to bragging and expressing his contempt for others less ambitious, but his forceful way achieves success in the only world that he recognizes—a world of outdoor activities focusing on hard work and hunting and fishing. His insensitivity has long made his wife yearn for a different kind of life, but on balance she has decided to stick with him despite his “incurably male” intransigence. She is thus not surprised to hear the roar of the outboard motor on the skiff that carries the fisherman and the two adolescents out to their larger boat before daylight on Christmas morning.

With the skiff and the outboard secured across the boat’s stern, the three make their way to Brown Cow Island, where they anchor their boat and motor another three hundred yards in their skiff to Devil’s Hump. They plan to arrive at about the same time the tide has receded enough so they can land and begin shooting around half-tide. The fisherman has it figured exactly: They will have about four hours before the ledge is completely submerged by high tide again. After finishing their “gunning” in late afternoon, they will go home with a skiff full of sea ducks—many more than their legal limit, a fact that does not ruffle the fisherman’s ethical sense in the slightest. With the three is the fisherman’s black retriever, too old to swim in the icy water but happy at being in on the...

(The entire section is 679 words.)