THE OPENER

THE BEST SPOT ON THE FIRST MORN­ING OF DUCK SEA­SON IS THE ONE THAT NO­BODY ELSE HUNTS

Outdoor Life - - WILD AMERICA - BY ALEX ROBIN­SON

It’s open­ing day of duck sea­son in Wis­con­sin, and some­where at a pub­lic boat ramp right now, there are two grown men ar­gu­ing. Camo waders buckled down, faces painted, head­lamp beams turned on high, neck veins bulging. Their dis­agree­ment might go a few dif­fer­ent ways (“I was here first,” “You’re go­ing to be too close to our blind,” “I scouted this last week”), but it’s al­ways the same prob­lem: Each guy wants to claim a lit­tle piece of marsh that we all own. But that’s not hap­pen­ing here. The pre-dawn hours of my open­ing day are pitch-dark and dead quiet. Dad and I take a beat-up john­boat that’s older than I am out to a sliver of peat bog that con­nects two lit­tle lakes. There’s plenty of duck­weed in th­ese twin lakes and some old oaks that drop acorns along the shore­line, but oth­er­wise our spot wouldn’t look too spe­cial to most other duck hun­ters. And that’s just what makes it so spe­cial to us—no­body ever hunts here. We set a few de­coys in the wa­ter­way that cuts through the bog. I futz with our makeshift blind. Dad drinks cof­fee and scolds his whin­ing black Lab. We’ve come to the same spot and run through this same pre-hunt rou­tine al­most ev­ery open­ing day since I was in high school. Shoot­ing light fi­nally ticks down, so I face to the left and my dad cov­ers the right. We hear the wheet-wheet squeal of the first wood duck be­fore we can see it through the fog. A hen woodie buzzes by and folds up in a roar of gun­fire from our two-man shoot­ing line. The dog hits the wa­ter as the duck splashes down. Two more wood­ies hook in from my side, and we whiff on both. We mum­ble cuss­words and ex­cuses and reload. The morn­ing air smells like gun­pow­der, bog, white pine, black cof­fee, and wet dog. Even­tu­ally, I hit a high, cross­ing shot on a ring-necked duck, and then Dad and I dou­ble on a pair of drake wood­ies that bank around an ancient white pine and drop into our de­coy spread. Dad eats a PB&J sand­wich to cel­e­brate. The flights come in waves. We shoot and reload as fast as we can for a minute, and then sit for an hour and talk about noth­ing at all. By 10:30 a.m., we each have our limit of wood ducks and one bonus ringer. We could prob­a­bly scratch out more ducks if we waited around, but it’s break­fast time now, and we’ll be back for those birds next year any­way. Maybe some­day we’ll pull into our open­ing-morn­ing spot to find a cou­ple of other hun­ters get­ting ready to push out to­ward the peat bog. And if we do, I hope the first thing out of my mouth isn’t “Hey, we were here first.”

“THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT SPE­CIAL TO US—NO­BODY EVER HUNTS HERE.”

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