By Kyle Wintersteen
You don’t need a calendar to tell you opening day is near. You feel it in the breezes of those first crisp September mornings. Your hunter’s spirit calls to you, prompting you to mentally calculate the lead on any bird — be it a goose, dove or sparrow — that happens to fly by. Sometimes, when nobody is looking, you extend a finger and swing.
But you’re also spurred to take more meaningful action. Duck season is on the horizon. It’s time to get ready!
I always start by applying a coat of Hoppe’s No. 9 to my shotgun. It doesn’t really need it, but I enjoy the smell. I inspect its springs for wear and check for rust in all the places it likes to hide. Light oil is applied throughout and grease dabbed on the choke threads. Then I snap the 12-gauge to my shoulder, pull ahead of an imagined bull canvasback and, satisfied, return it to the safe.
Thereafter I pull out my duck calls, remove their barrels and give them a rinse in warm water. Once dry, I experiment with my calls’ reeds in effort to tune them. Afterward I tell myself they sound much better, though I have no idea what I’m doing.
Next to tackle is the veritable mountain of jackets and base layers, overalls and waders, hats and gloves meshed together in a corner of the basement. I allow Camo Mountain to lie in state all summer, a memorial of sorts to last season. Though my wife inexplicably frowns on this tradition, it allows for a favorite pre-season ritual: Finding lost stuff.
I’ll discover a headlamp in the breast pocket of my waders, and a flashlight in a boot. Typically I’m reunited with at least two knives. My record is five. Additionally, by the time I’m done checking the contents of my jackets, I’ll have accumulated a full box of random shotshells. Lastly I place my clothing in bins labeled “early season,” “mid-season” and “late-season,” and I’m all set to spend the next 60 days disorganizing it anew.
Then it’s time to tend the decoys. I annually vow to paint the faded heads of several drake mallards, though I never do. I’m slightly better about re-rigging any lines or anchors showing their age. And I always blast away last season’s gunk with a carwash hose (water only — soap leaves a sheen).
From there, well, I am ready to hunt. And hunt I shall, again and again, until I have to swap my early-season bin for heavier garments, and my icy fingertips fail to grasp the pocketed shotshells that I’ll delight in uncovering next September. There’s no telling what the season may bring, but my gear — and my soul — are ready.