October 05, 2017

 I would bet that just about every kid would agree to having multiple Christmas mornings a year. There is something magical about going to bed knowing the sunrise the next morning brings something you’ve looked forward to and talked about for a while. Fortunately, for the outdoor-minded crowd, we get a number of “Christmas” mornings a year, with the fall bringing a lot of extra excitement.

Though I didn’t grow up in a hunting family, I gained my love of the outdoors from my father and my life-long passion for fishing from my grandfather. My young summers were spent dreaming of the next fishing outing up the canyon. I can still remember in vivid detail, the evening before a fishing trip, I would ride my bike to my grandparent’s house to spend the night, making that early morning a little easier. An empty Jolly Green Giant corn can served as a handheld collection point for night crawlers picked out of the garden. The large barreled C battery powered flashlight barely fit in my small hand, but it was apart of the deadly combination that seemed to bring limits of fish every summer.  My grandmother would tuck me into bed and wish me a goodnight as my mind wandered on what the next morning would bring. Long before sunrise the light in my room would be switched on and I’d scramble to get dressed for another adventure with my hero. Call it selective memory, but I don’t remember a single outing that wasn’t successful.

Fast forward a number of years and I now have children of my own. Life has a funny way of staying busy, at times with mundane routines that seem to keep us from what we really want to be doing. How many times have you heard “I ran out of time” or “I didn’t have time”? Those excuses seem to be more common now than ever, but it’s no reason to not make the time to get outside.

My oldest child grew up fishing, often out fishing me, but had yet to be really exposed to much hunting. Last fall he asked if I had any deer or elk tags because he wanted to come along for the adventure. Sadly, I didn’t have any tags last fall and didn’t feel like he was ready to be subjected to the cold, wet marsh where I love spending fall mornings.

One short year later, a close friend offered up an opportunity to take my son out on his airboat for the youth waterfowl opener. Not wanting to push my son into anything he wasn’t ready to do, I asked if he was interested. His smile and questions made it apparent he was ready to try it for himself.

 He studied hunter safety online at his own pace, asking questions around the dinner table and on walks around the neighborhood. I could see a fire had been sparked and his mind was spinning quickly with everything he was learning. I was impressed with the courses now being taught, not just from a safety standpoint, but also the education on the laws, ethics and conservation side of hunting. He enjoyed the course and passed with pride; he was ready to take on the state administered test and field day. There was a bit of pressure on him to pass the tests, as the youth waterfowl opener was just a couple weeks away. He passed with flying colors and proudly showed off his newly signed certificate that doubled as his license for the next year.

September 23 was circled on the calendar as the day he’d finally get a chance to try his hand at being a wing-shooter. Friday night was just like Christmas eve, as we packed and repacked everything we figured he’d need the next morning. Though youth hunts in the past had been met with 80-degree day time temps, the late September storms this year had brought snow to the higher elevations and cold winds to the open water. He was tucked into his bed and left to his own dreaming as I loaded everything up for the early morning departure.

Three proud fathers assisted three groggy boys into their waders the next morning, as an eager black lab paced around the platform on the airboat. Warm winter hats were donned with large hearing protection headphones; it would be a loud, cold ride out to our spot for the morning. Set up went quick, quick enough that we had nearly a half hour to sit on the front of the boat and eat donuts while waiting for legal light. Dark outlines of ducks dotted the skyline as it began to light up. We settled the boys into the blind and anxiously kept an eye on our watches for the legal hour. The birds were active on the cool morning, bouncing around the marsh when the shotguns began going off in the distance, reminding us of warm popcorn in the microwave.

The boys shot well and connected on limits of ducks, my son starting off his waterfowl life with a spoonbill. He quickly followed it up with a second bird, a nice shot on a cinnamon teal; not totally rare around here, but scarce enough that I’ve never shot one. As the fathers cleaned up the decoys we couldn’t help but smile as the boys recalled the morning and recounted the shots, both hits and misses. One thing was for sure, the fire had been lit inside each of those kids even though it may be years before any of them are spending hours in a cattail blind waiting on a single bird.

The smiles and the high fives are the real trophies of the hunt, ones that I hope live on for the rest of my life. Do yourself a favor, take a loved one into the outdoors and instill in them the same love you’ve been fortunate enough to have.