Monday, November 12, 2012

The Thrill of the Early Season

It's that first morning alarm of the 2012 waterfowl season, a 5 AM interjection of country music that on most mornings, when another day of work is all we have to look forward to, is most unwelcome. But on days that promise decoys and sunrises, cackling geese lifting off the river in a dance of wing beats, and camaraderie, the alarm clock doesn't seem quite as daunting a foe.

This won't be a morning that requires base layers, under layers, middle layers and outer layers. It's early in the season yet, and those mornings are becoming rare here on the Chesapeake Bay anyway. I tuck a fleece into my waders, and with my companion we trudge off to the flooded corn and the smallish a-frame blind therein. The curly-coated retriever that will hunt with us today serves as a better literal illustration of our own excitement, she paces far ahead of those of us held back from walking too quickly by gun cases, blind bags, and the fit of our waders. It is these early season hunts, where little is expected except warm weather, that don't require much preparation. We toss less than a dozen cork decoys out kicking up a group of Canada geese in the process. Watching them lift off noisily in the light of the pre-dawn moon is the reason many of us do this; after they leave the only noise to be heard is the splash! of the decoys hitting the water.

On many mornings this season the task of setting decoys will be much more challenging, and take much longer. As the season gets longer, and the birds get wiser, decoy spreads grow and grow; and likewise the conditions under which they multiply are often colder, wetter, windier; all medicine for the soul of waterfowl hunters, whose sanity is not terribly well established. But today the stars give way to a pink morning, with not a cloud in sight. The forecasted temperatures for the day are north of 60, but I find myself regretting dressing for later in the day when the morning still hovers in the mid-30s.

The whistle of Mallard wings floats by overhead before legal shooting time, and magically the chill of the early morning evaporates with anticipation. You could do this a thousand times, and those first birds that buzz the blind always get the heart rate moving. When that stops happening, I guess its time to stay in bed.

Loading three Federal waterfowl loads into my shotgun, Jordy, the curly-coated retriever comes over to my side of the blind, sniffs the shells as if to wish them good luck. Knowing that her fulfillment on this day is dependent upon our shooting.

In a utilitarian sense, Jordy was unfulfilled. As were her duck hunters. A few Mallards gave us a look, but we waited for a third turn by the blind that never came. Such is life as a waterfowl hunter. We wait on a cold blast of air to our north that might push birds southward, and know that when that happens, we are in a spot as likely as any other. And if like last year, that cold blast never comes, we know that the company is good, the view is beautiful, and that it isn't the pull of the trigger that brings us out here.


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