By Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor
It happens every year on the night before duck season: I lie awake in bed as if a kid on Christmas Eve pondering a BB-gun-shaped present under the tree. Restlessly twisting and turning like a flock of teal — and ultimately causing my wife to bounce one of her many pointless throw pillows off my forehead — I’m wide-eyed with visions of wood ducks and mallards dangling their feet over my decoys.
My optimism on opening-day eve isn’t just high, it’s decidedly irrational. Sure, I’ve had some good openers, but most were simply OK and others were well … awful. Yet somehow as waterfowlers we’re able to block out the bad and remember only the good. Case in point: My expectations of what would occur versus the cruel realities of opening day 2014, a fantastically memorable affair for all the wrong reasons.
Expectation: We’ll have a pleasant hike to our secluded spot on a public creek, leaving plenty of time to toast opening day with a fresh cup of coffee.
Reality: My GPS malfunctioned and I found myself stumbling through a beaver swamp that wasn’t supposed to be there. A roosting grouse thundered from a branch approximately next to my ear and I shrieked like that goat on YouTube that sounds like Taylor Swift.
Expectation: The decoy spread will be set with precision.
Reality: Two decoys were swept away before sunrise and never seen again.
Expectation: The teal, wood ducks and mallards we scouted will not only return, they’ll bring the motherlode with them.
Reality: By 10 a.m., every flight of crows made my stomach flip as my brain tried desperately to turn them into ducks.
Expectation: My dog will sit mannerly on the bank, handle unflinchingly to each downed duck and retrieve gingerly to hand. My buddies will compliment me on his progress from last season.
Reality: The only thing my dog retrieved was a sandwich from my buddy’s duffle, which he swallowed whole. He later broke on a passing heron and returned covered in burrs.
Expectation: My calling will be masterful and lure limits of naïve early-season greenheads. My buddies will compliment me on my progress from last season.
Reality: In my excitement, I called way too loudly and flared the first pair. My lanyard was placed on a one-hunt suspension.
Expectation: We’ll likely see a game warden. It’ll go well.
Reality: The first thing the warden said was, “Sounds like everybody is shooting except for you folks, heh-heh.” He checked a buddy’s license and asked to see how his new Benelli Vinci works. That’s when my pal demonstrated that the Vinci’s magazine spring not only removes easily for cleaning, it’s also possible to eject it shockingly far into a creek and lose it forever. The same buddy then gestured toward me and said, “Hey, that guy on the end is an outdoor writer.” During the extra-thorough check that ensued, a drake wood duck swung by and the warden paused so I could shoot. I missed three times.
Expectation: After the action finally slows, we can walk the creek and jump-shoot our remaining ducks.
Reality: Shortly into our first stalk, I discovered my waders were leaking. But one wet knee didn’t much matter when I slipped on a rock, faceplanted and created a portable neoprene jacuzzi.
Expectation: The duck straps will weigh us down on the hike out, but our excitement as we recount the day’s events will carry us to the finish line.
Reality: Little was audible aside from the “slosh-slosh-slosh” of my water-logged footsteps. At the truck, I was unable to dislodge my soggy feet from my waders, and so had to brace myself as a friend yanked on my boots — much to the delight of passing motorists.
Expectation: I’ll be excited to hunt again tomorrow.
Reality: I couldn’t wait to hunt again the next day. (We shot ducks, too.)