Saturday is the greatest the day of the year as far as I’m concerned. It’s the opening of the wild duck season, and this year, just like in previous years, even though I’ve awaited this day anxiously since it closed last November, I’m unprepared.
Though not completely. My boat, gun, and ammo are ready to roll. Licenses and stamps are purchased, and my calls are all quacking beautifully.
What is neglected at this crucial hour, as usual, are my decoys. And for this I always feel guilty because though they are inanimate objects they have become close companions.
During the fall they are with me more than friends and family. They are with me in my boat as I row through the morning darkness. They keep me company, bobbing in the water, as I wait in the cattails for first light. And, of course they are there when birds start flying, enticing the ducks to alter their flight and land.
Through all the trials and triumphs that accompany duck hunting, my decoys are there for me, and now they are in a pile, connected by a nasty birds nest of string and weights that will be impossible to untangle.
So this year, on the eve of opening day, just like every year, I will cut them all loose and retie them, and by doing so each and every season I get to know each decoy individually, like a farmer with dairy cows or a shepherd with sheep.
All the decoys look the same at a glance, but they are not.
There are some with chipped paint on the wings, some have faded heads, some have been shot and have holes, and some have remained pristine. Each decoy has a slight characteristic that separates it from the others and gives it it’s own identity.
I have not gone so far as to name each one, but I do view them as individuals, even though they are pieces of molded plastic.
With such a respect for them, you may wonder then why my decoys are in such a tangled mess. That is simple. The last day of duck hunting is always the coldest and nastiest day so when I retrieve them at the closing of the season I’m not concerned about properly wrapping them up. With frozen hands, I just throw them in the bag in a haste to get off the lake as soon as possible.
That is usually not the case. At the end of every other hunt during the season I am meticulous about wrapping each decoy up properly so that the next day they can easily be unwrapped and deployed.
But that very last day of the season always gets me in a rush and I end up beginning the next year with the mess of knots that I’m staring at right now.
In a matter of hours though, my core flock of 13 decoys, which is all that will fit with me on my kayak, will be retied and ready to catch the eyes of passing ducks.
And all the work untangling them will simply contribute to my getting to know them better.
So here’s to another great season of early mornings with my crew of plastic pals.
That may sound crazy — and it is — but that’s just what duck hunting can do.
Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]