Opening Day

Know what we love about opening day?

It’s waking up before the alarm, middle of the night, and our hearts racing like we were doing stairs at the Rose Bowl.  Our camo laid out like some middle aged first day of school ritual, guns cleaned, ammo neatly in every pouch and loop.

It’s the chill as we crank the truck, fall just beginning to tease us.  She uses our nervous energy to make it seem colder than it is.  There’s the sound of the V-8 as you rattle to the pond; your labs nervous whimpering and tail thumping in the back.

It’s the haze of headlamps as we set our first spread of the year.  We place, and then move.  We step back as though we were Renaissance artists, just trying to make sure our masterpiece is perfect.

We love the smell of hot coffee, poured from a dented old Coleman.  The smell of flooded timber, or gas combustion engines.

We love that anticipation – stars fighting daylight, just waiting, knowing that it’s almost 6:41.  The marsh comes alive with no knowledge of our presence, and gators give way to crickets who give way to mosquitos.  Nightjars give way to coots who give way to ducks.

We love the sounds – wood ducks whistling, the peep of a pintail, the quacks and trills and zips, all of which send tingles down our spine.

The feel of our gun – old walnut, worn and weathered with a checked stock.  New synthetic with soft touch camo patterns.

The dull “kerplunk” of a shell being chambered.

It’s the sight we do it for, a pod of birds locked in on that pièce de résistance we created earlier, banked off by a perfect call and beginning to cup.  It’s the way the whole thing slows down, or speeds up, making the colors on their heads and bills and wings and feet light up.

It’s the felt recoil.  The smell of the shot.  The flurry of wings, whether a bird splashes or not.

We love opening day for the camaraderie of the duck blind, be it labs, or friends, or family.  It’s this inner sanctum of the Church of Waterfowl, the holy of holies . . . no man dislikes another while sharing a duck blind.  Beef jerky is passed freely, pups included.  Shots made are cheered, and missed are often jeered.  Fathers and grandfathers and sons and daughters are forged together.

We love the pickup.  The relaxed air of retrieving the decoys, the good-natured teasing of each other about swings and misses.

It’s breakfast, whether in the blind or after the hunt at some diner with a name like “The Orange Box” or “Marsh Landing” – where the normal eggs and bacon are coupled with things like fried bologna and sweet tea.

Opening day is special for the ones who are no longer with us . . . those Grandpas whose legacy lives on in a 12 year old with a beat up A-5, sipping Pepsi and still trying to get the sleep out of his eyes, the little girl looking out from behind a weather Filson jacket, her whisps of blonde hair sneaking around her oversized hat as she grins a snaggle toothed grin when you tell her to get ready . . .

We love the ducks.  The Wigeons and Woodies, Mallards and Mottleds and Mergansers, Bluewings and Greenwings, Sprigs and Shovelers.  Everyone is different, and yet everyone is the same.

What do we love about opening day?  In a word: