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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Heavy Hearted Opener

The blind bag was stocked with a full box of steel shot, some freshly smoked deer jerky, and a few granola bars for good measure. My gear had already been stacked by the back door, waiting to be loaded into the truck in the predawn darkness. Timber, my three year old chessie, had been ready to roll since the night before when he started to put two & two together as I was casing my 870 pump, his anticipation overflowing. Waders, a bag of goose decoys, along with another mixed bag of duck decoys were already secured in the bed of the truck. Even the coffee marker was set up ready to brew a full bodied pot to fill my thermos as the alarm chimed precisely at 5:30 AM, interrupting my somewhat restless slumber, and wag-starting my dog's tail. It's opening morning of the 2011 - 2012 duck season.

As we made our way to the pond that was planned for the day, my mind stayed distracted, only thinking about wind direction, decoy placement, and the hope that some birds would cooperate. Pulling into the farm I hopped out of the truck to unlock the gate, feeling the wind against my face blowing steadily out of the west. A short drive back along the dirt two track bordering the unharvested bean field's edge had us arriving at the oak tree lined pond unloading both trucks, dogs greeting each other under the dark, cloudy sky. It was good to be here right now.

7:15 AM was legal shooting light. Any minute now. Then as if they were on the same schedule as us, my ears picked up on the sound of a pair of wood ducks as they cupped their wings, sliced through the dimly light morning sky, and precisely plopped down on the water in front of Timber and I. They were the first to arrive for a breakfast of acorns floating along the ponds edge. My dog's anticipation again rose to the surface with an eager whine as my finger eased over the safety, quietly pushing the button off. Looking over and seeing that Rob was still getting his gear together, I quietly laughed inside, knowing that the shotgun's blast that would be following in a few seconds would probably catch him a bit off guard. As I rose to my feet, so too did the wood ducks rise to the air at the sight of unnatural movement from within the trees. The 870 simultaneously flashed fire in the morning darkness and threw steel out the end of the barrel. One duck left, one duck stayed. A quick "fetch 'em up" command had Timber diving from the shoreline for his first official retrieve of the season. It was good to be here right now.

The rest of the morning proceeded in much the same way with birds coming in from the western sky, turning back into the wind, before cutting down toward the decoys. Rob & I each shot our limit of wood ducks within the first hour of the morning, in fact, we had our limit before I was even able to pour a thermos lid of coffee. The remaining hours that we sat pond side with our pooches was spent waiting on mallards or geese, that for one reason or another, decided not to show. And that was fine by me. It was just good to be here right now.

For me, this hunt wasn't about shooting limits. It wasn't about shooting anything for that matter. That actually was the last thought on my mind when my alarm sounded off in the morning. This hunt was indeed weighing heavy on my heart in that I had just lost my Grandpa the day before, 12 hours had barely passed since I received the phone call telling me the news. It was a phone call that I knew was coming, one I was preparing for, but one that I just didn't want to hear...

There's a chance that this hunt may have never even happened without my Grandpa, who was now with me both in spirit, and in my heart. He was always the first person I called after a good outing, after I arrowed a deer, after I dropped a limit of ducks or geese. He was the one who introduced me to the outdoors, whether it was camping, fishing, hunting, or just being outside. He has been a mentor, a friend, and often times my very best accomplice. Even though thoughts of my Grandpa frequently brought a lump to my throat, or even started to fill my eyes with tears that morning, I knew he was watching over me. Sitting there on the shore line next to me. He'll always be there with me, walking with me, hunting with me, fishing with me, guiding me to be the patient teacher and mentor to my own children that he was to me. For all of those things he shared with me, and so many, many more life lessons he taught me over the years, I am forever thankful. Rest in Peace Grandpa, we'll hunt again soon...

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