With excited anticipation I’m looking forward to the upcoming duck opener but while scouting
the last few days more thoughts drifted back in time reflecting to days spent hunting
with dad and others who have passed or those I no longer hunt with than the upcoming Saturday. Then more ponderings to future openers especially those for young hunters and future hunters. Will there still be such excitement? Let’s begin by going back in time first. As a kid “openers” had the same importance as the one this Saturday filled with exactly the same anticipation but with one huge difference. As a youngster the opener was reserved for the adults and I’d have to wait for the second day but that was ok because one day, when a bit older I’d be included on day 1 . You probably have no idea how important that was to a 12 year old so many years ago and certainly as attitudes have changed in today’s world with “the sooner the better” popular flavor. I’m not so sure if the change is for the better though. Huntin’ spots were different too. Drain tile didn’t exist, small cattail sloughs dotted the landscape and a family could make a living on 160 acres of good ground in harmony with the ducks ‘n pheasants who made a living in those swamps ‘n sloughs too. Too many years later I remember bemoaning the fact on Fan Outdoors that I had been hunting for “the Minnesota Duck!” Yup drain tile was in some ground but not to the extent it is today. Those dry years left Minnesota mostly dry of ducks too because the wet Dakotas were just too attractive for
the webbed critters to pass up. Tiled fields run water almost as fast as Mother Nature drops it away from agricultural areas into ditches and streams to be whisked away and also into WPA’s and WMA’s purchased with hunter license dollars. It’s really no wonder the waters were ermed “degraded” often no longer attractive to nesting or migrating waterfowl with the chemicals and fertilizers arriving with the waters. But while we still hunted ducks, although
fewer of them than the past questions began being asked in adult circles. Questions wondering why there had been such a decline in hunter participation and kids wanting to join the hunting ranks? But there were still the diehards who saw value in the sport making a concerted effort to introduce their kids and still others to waterfowling because the experience really hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Darkness still gives way to dawn followed by yet another sunup and along the way there is a magical time embraced by waterfowlers.
In the still darkness a whistle of unseen wings, a lonesome hen mallard quacking in search of company, a group of birds fooled by Judas imitations with cupped wings ‘n paddles down, the autoloader in hand that’s just spent the 3rd shell with nothing but the smell of gunpowder drifting skyward following the noise and even the empty skies that will most certainly be part of this opener as in others before in the later morning. There’s also the dogs, present and past. Those who are gone who have left indelible marks on our very beings and those with us now who from time to time serve up a reminder that we’re not quite as smart as we think when from the cattails they emerge with a bird we thought was over there.
Both my boys, Erik and Chad are avid waterfowlers probably because I, like my father
did for me made time to expose them to the experience called duck hunting. A sport that in its entirety is so much more than simply attempting to down this web-footed bird. So very much more!
When talk turns to duck hunts of tomorrow I wonder where, what and how? Scouting today I passed two semis of drain tile tubing, where once there were sloughs now there’s endless corn above the perforated black plastic pipe soon to be black plowed ground. My hope for the future is that there will still be some room for these feathered creatures in tomorrows’ rural America because it’s absolutely too important to loose. The dawns, whistling wings, retrievers, adults, kids and old men who take such pride in calling themselves duck hunters are too valuable to loose for an ear of corn or an inept Washington not able to see the value of
conservation for the present or for future generations. But for the upcoming “opener” I absolutely can’t wait and it really doesn’t matter if I get ducks or not because the value
of opening day will not be measured in ducks on the ground or in dollars ‘n cents. It will have things more important to consider, friends, family, the dogs and yes another sunrise over a slough with decoys and maybe just maybe the familiar sounds of whistling wings followed by
a family meal of duck ‘n dumplings!