After 42 years of sunrises observed from a duck blind with clients from all walks of life, I can tell you every day is different.
Actually, I’ve been scanning the skies during waterfowl season now for 55-plus years, as my dad took me on my first early-morning wake-up call when I was about 10 years old.
It’s the last four decades-plus that I’ve been in the blind during the lion’s share of the statewide season, which takes in a portion of November and most all of December and January.
As a professional guide, I’ve had legions of hunters from just about every state in the union and from most every background one can imagine.
A professional hunting and fishing guide has a lot of similarities to the coaching profession; everyone likes you when you’re winning!
Guides and coaches know you can’t win them all, either. Some days, the ducks don’t fly and the fish don’t bite. Maybe they were flying for someone else in another corner of the world.
But truth is, the vocation is very challenging. It requires a tough skin. Definitely not for the faint of heart!
Mother Nature often deals the cards. Those of us in the outdoor field just have to play the hand that’s dealt.
When you want cold wind and falling temperatures, you sometimes get balmy weather and stagnant winds.
Sometimes it’s too cold and ice takes over, changing the whole duck-hunting picture. And yes, it can get too cold at times!
Clients don’t always understand the variables. The ducks don’t know (or care) how far you’ve driven, how much you’ve spent to get here or how early you rose from a warm, comfortable bed.
I’ll have to say the vast majority of camouflage-clad duck hunters who paraded into my blind were pretty good folks, eager to shoot some ducks, but equally appreciative of the outdoor experience and the overall outing.
Most marvel at those burnt-orange sunrises when silhouettes of decoy spreads formed a breath-taking moment.
Those short minutes when the sun first peaks above the horizon are fragments in time you wish you could put on hold.
A quick-rising sun jumping over the ridge tells us how fast life is indeed passing.
It sort of makes most people pause and reflect on days gone by with old friends and family during hunts past, perhaps their first hunt of yesteryear with dad or grandad;
Memories of old retrievers who accompanied with whimpers of enthusiasm and a cold nose to the hand signaling the bond of unconditional love.
There’s something special about being in the marsh as a day begins, quiet times shared with others as the world wakes from a winter’s nap.
Squawking great blue herons startled from their roost announce their discontent for all the world to hear.
Owls deep in the woods trade messages with each other before their nocturnal journey ends.
It’s that moment of the morning for all hunters in the blind to speak the same language of silence. Listen, and let the awakening world come to you!
Above the howling dogs of a distant country farmhouse and quartets of owls comes the unique honk of a flock of geese just taking flight far away.
Which way are the going? It’s too dark to see and too far off to speculate on their location or destination.
Ducks appear from the heavens and the sound of their wings unloading air is quite a heart-stopper. Shooting stars leave a short and fast fading trail in a dark sky.
All these things and more are not seen or appreciated on most mornings by most folks unless they are indeed in a duck blind.
Clients often comment about the contrast between where they are and their usual work-day schedule.
No traffic jams encountered. Parking isn’t a problem. Telephones sleep silently tucked away in bags.
For a few short hours, the visitors deviate from their normal routine. They often ask why they don’t do this more often, both aloud and to themselves.
Ducks blinds and marshes are places where you can be alone — but never lonely!
While the objective is to shoot a lots of ducks, it’s not the only requirement for a successful trip, although I’ve had my fair share of hunters who felt anything short of a limit was a bad day.
Yet that type, for the most part, are in the minority.
Some days, you get the bear; some days, the bear gets you. That’s part of hunting. Thus, it’s called the hunting season and not the “killing season.”
Still, clients have every right to expect results. They arrive expecting to pull the trigger a few times and bag ducks that winged over the decoys, adding yet another thrill to the outdoor adventure.
I’ve been calling ducks since I was big enough to breathe air and force the thrust through the barrel of a call. Making the right sounds takes a lot of time and practice.
Knowing when to use this or that type call requires experience of watching ducks and learning their responses.
Still, despite all the decades of experience from calling, setting out decoy spreads and brushing blinds, the ducks still have the element of surprise on their side.
Some days, they have mood swings and nothing you do seems to alter their stubbornness.
Both ducks and fish have kept me humble. There are times when they just hurt your feelings. Weather is a big factor in that, too, and guides can’t control the weather.
It’s not unusual to face other hurdles, namely novice hunters and shooters who don’t really know the way things ought to work.
Veteran guides will tell you there are some days when all the experience and preparation just won’t overcome novice hunters and their pie-in-the-sky expectations.
At the same time, one doesn’t have to be good at it to enjoy it. The day depends on the disposition of the sportsmen who bring with them a positive attitude of realistic expectations.
There are days when it all clicks and the stars are in line. Ducks fill the skies and work in range right over the decoys like they got the memo. It’s those days when nothing goes quite right that seasons the real outdoorsman, forming the mold for future hunting trips.
If a person can ride out the tough times and perhaps practice patience while learning from the whole experience, then he or she has some great days ahead with friends and family.
Future dawns in the duck blind will pay dividends. It may not seem like it when paying the dues, but all those tough times will be paid in full when a few good days erase the hard times.
Every day is indeed different in the duck blind, which is why I keep getting up in the wee hours of the morning meeting new friends.
The good times far exceed the bad ones, regardless of how many ducks are dangling on the hanger at the end of the day.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.