Yes it’s that time of year again. These weeks leading up to opening day are a magical time of year. The anticipation builds as the texts and water cooler conversations seem to be more about what opportunities this upcoming hunting season will offer and less about summer vacation, wedding photos and digs about your buddy’s golf game.
For me I save my vacation time for the fall, we rarely get invited to a wedding these days and I only play golf about 3 times a year at local fund raising events. There really isn’t an off season for me but I still get fired up when the calendar rolls over to September. September for me marks the true start to the upcoming hunting season as the temperature in the northeast starts to drop and the woods and fields come alive with the sounds and sightings of deer, turkey and geese.
These cooler temps also seem to trigger something in us hunters that get our thoughts focused on preparing for the upcoming season, more specifically, opening day. Whether you’re pursuing waterfowl, turkey or deer, this is the time of year when most hunters start to pull out their gear. You start taking inventory on what you have and what you need. This is the time of year when you know you’re only weeks or even days away from hitting the woods and the water.
My preparation really begins when last season ends. However, September is when I go full swing preparing for opening day of waterfowl season. We start to build our blinds the first weekend in September. I have already cleaned up all my gear, freshened up the decoys and shot the Benelli. I have been scouting the fields and other hunting spots in order to have the plan laid out for opening day. I like to have a game plan in place to make opening day live up to all the hype. Although we guide folks throughout the year we still like to reserve opening day for just the “Crew”.
Technically as you are reading this column we will have been 2 weeks into our early goose season which opened September 3rd. I would like to assume we have taken several nice geese by this point. Having said that, for me opening day is really Oct 9th which is when the duck season opens up where we hunt. This year ducks open on the 9th and geese re-opens on the 10th. This opening day we will be hunting ducks from one of our elevated blinds we built in a bay off Lake Champlain on the Vermont side. This particular spot has been a great spot for many years. We have 2 blinds in this bay an outer blind for diver ducks as well as puddle ducks, and the inner blind which will also produce both, but seems to be a bit better for puddle ducks.
Whether you’re a waterfowl, turkey or deer hunter your success hinges on your preparation. You need to really do your homework and have a game plan. Take the time to go through all your notes from last year, assuming you’re a bit nutty like me and kept notes from previous hunting season that you review to see what went right and what went wrong from your past hunts. This will help you be more successful both in the numbers of birds you harvest and the number of smiles produced. Safety, as always, is a high priority so be sure to be over prepared for this. All the other preparations are meaningless if you aren’t safe or if you aren’t ready for when something goes wrong.
The alarm clock goes off its 3 am opening day and I have been awake in bed since 2. I have done all my homework leading up to this day. The texts start to roll in from my hunting buddies teasing me about being up since 2 because I couldn’t sleep and I know they couldn’t either. I venture down stairs to start the coffee, grab a bagel and get dressed for the day. I have all my gear laid out in the front room other than my shotgun, which I go to the gun safe to retrieve. The truck is loaded with the decoys and waders. I send a follow up text to the guys telling them I’m ready to roll and will pick them up soon. I grab my buddy Rene first and we make a traditional stop at the local gas station to fill the thermos with coffee and grab some additional snacks. Before we head to the blind, which is about an hour south, we meet Leo and Phil at Phil’s house to load up the boat then head off to the boat launch. It’s a bit of a jockeying for position as we are not the only hunters that realize this bay is a hot spot for ducks. Once were all loaded up we motor out to the blind which is a short trip down the river and out into the bay. The routine is to load me and Phil into the blind with the gear while Leo & Rene layout the decoy spread. Phil and I work on setting up the blind with the gear to get everyone positioned with gun bags and shotguns. We hold off on loading the shotguns until everyone is up and into the blind. I can’t help but film Leo & Rene as they set out the decoys. Although they have done this a hundred times before I still get a laugh or two as they toss out the decoys and work them into position. Phil and I watch the lights from their caps and the spot light as they survey the decoys to make sure each decoy is positioned as needed to entice the unsuspected duck into our set up. From our vantage point Phil and I can see as the decoy spread starts to develop. Phil and I try to holler out a suggestion or two but our requests seem to always go unanswered as the sound of the motor must keep them from hearing us, or perhaps our input is simply being ignored. There is truly an art to the decoy spread and these guys are the Picasso & Rembrandt of decoy deployment. But occasionally they do get tangled up and having that on tape is priceless because I know by seasons end they will likely again have me on tape missing a drake Bufflehead at 20 yards. That one still haunts me to this day.
Once the decoys are positioned and Leo & Rene are up in the blind the teasing and joking begins. As we start to position ourselves and load up we start in with stories from past hunts. Phil wouldn’t be Phil if he didn’t tease Leo & Rene about the decoys and that they are to close or too far from the blind. Rene has to chuckle about my waders making me look like Sponge Bob Square Pants. I will let you Google that if you don’t know the cartoon character Sponge Bob. I then have to tease Rene saying how his entire hunting outfit looks like he picked it up at a lawn sale right down to the leaky waders. Leo does his usual warning to me about shooting into his hand carved decoys, saying how he spent all summer fixing last year’s casualties from Bouchard shooting into his decoys. My comeback is this must be the reason the 5 Black Duck decoys I ordered from him last November still aren’t finished.