By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
I was really looking forward to this opening day. Don’t get me wrong, every hunting season opener is special — especially when you get older and realize just how fragile they can be. For sportsmen, the anticipation and planning for the opener of a particular season has caused many daydreams to come true and the year-long hard work to pay off.
This past week, I enjoyed the opening day of duck season with a friend of mine who is also cursed with the waterfowl-hunting plague. We only see each other few times a year but we have managed to keep a date on both of our calendars for several years marked with the words, “Wood Duck Hunt.” That day has quickly become one of my favorite openers of the year.
Although we had planned on a scouting and maintenance day before the season opened, our schedules of work and life never released enough time for the pre-season chores. Without revamping our blind or scouting the swamp in search of perhaps a better location, we had no choice but to hunt the blind as we left it a little over 350 days ago. I was worried that perhaps nature had engulfed it and we would be forced to go it alone without the comforts a blind and a couple of ratty chairs offer.
We stepped out of the truck into the cool blackness of the pre-dawn hours. When the dome lights of the truck dimmed, they revealed a dark sky full of bright autumn stars. With no clouds anywhere to be found in the sky, we hurriedly gathered our gear and headed towards the swamp knowing that sunlight would soon be filtering through the trees.
We clumsily made our way through a patch of woods towards the wetland. Walking in the woods donning chest waders, with a heavy bag of decoys slung over one shoulder and a shotgun case slung over the other, is no easy task. By no means is it quiet either. Our idea of getting to the duck blind early enough to let things calm down seemed to make much more sense as we huffed and puffed the damp swamp air into our hard-working lungs.
After searching several places we thought the blind should be, our flashlights finally revealed a waterlogged and muddy plywood platform surrounded by tired old sticks. It wasn’t pretty, but it was better than standing in waist-deep water by a long shot. As my friend sloshed around in the muck slinging out plastic duck decoys, I scurried to find some fresh greenery to decorate our new home for the special occasion.
With decoys placed strategically out in front of the blind ensuring a nifty little pothole for the ducks to land, we made our way to our hideout among the reeds and the bushes to sit quietly until sunrise. There’s something about the sunrise of an opening day — the long hours of anticipation for the moment to finally arrive and the feeling like it was only yesterday since you saw last year’s opening day sunrise. It’s in that brief moment in time just before the sky gives up the darkness and the sun’s rays begin to stir the sleeping world, my thoughts tend to flow towards reflections of time gone by.
A high-sounding “jeeeeee,” followed by several “oo-eek” calls made by wood ducks down the creek, startled me back to the task at hand. A pair of fast-flying woodies darted into the scene from left to right, and with the swing of my shotgun and the slap of the trigger, my first duck of the season splashed into the misty water before me.
This past week, I watched a new day arise on the opening day of duck season and for that, I give thanks.
The first segment of the three-way split duck season in West Virginia is open Oct. 1-Oct. 12.