For those of you who followed the site during its last rendition, when I was posting regularly, you likely assumed my roots were in the uplands. While that was my focus for the last 8 or so years, for those of you who have followed since the early days you know that I’m a waterfowler at heart. Some of my earliest memories are being bundled up in the front of a beat-up old jon boat out in the slough with my Dad. I saw the inside of duck boat long before I saw the inside of a classroom, and it was here that my love of the outdoors was born. It would be years before I carried a gun, but the memories of harriers floating inches over the cattails, coots among the decoys and muskrats working away would hook me for life. The picture above is from the fall of 2001, and my first real South Dakota duck hunt, it was this trip that made me leave a fantastic job at a wonderful practice and move to South Dakota for the duck hunting, figuring that the veterinary side of my life to figure itself out when I got here. At that time in my life I was a one-dog hunter with my dog soulmate, Emma. She was a dog that could hunt sun-up to sun-down without missing a beat. During this trip there was a setter puppy, Maggie, who had entered my life, but at that time the prairie birds of South Dakota were not even on my radar. During these falls, when I actually had vacation days, we would duck hunt in the morning, pheasant midday and back to duck hunt in the evenings if we didn’t get our birds in the morning. Emma would get up with the alarm to eat and then bolt back to bed while we hooked the boat and gear up to snag just a few more precious moments of sleep to energize her through the rest of the day as she wouldn’t stop again until well after dark.
Opening day has never been something I got too excited for, I love that it symbolizes the new beginnings of a season, but I hate the chaos of the fair-weather hunters. My favorite days are those November days when the air is raw, the green is gone from the marsh except in the form of northern mallards. Those are the days that burn memories in ones mind that last a lifetime.
The above picture is probably one of my favorite of all time. It was a day the mallards were down, I shot my first band and this dog refused to quit. Dad managed to snap this shot as we motored back to the boat landing as the snow started to pile up.
Fast forward to this past weekend, opening weekend of South Dakota duck season and another new beginning. My views of the fair weather early season have changed a bit with the addition of Lily to the team. Lily came to me the year I lost Emma. At the time I was doing less duck hunting but wanted to do more. I remember growing up reading articles by Dave Carty and his duck hunting springer. I’ll never forget his pictures of that dog in its neoprene vest retrieving late season ducks from icy Montana rivers. I thought if that springer could do it why couldn’t a cocker? The only color of cocker I didn’t want was a predominantly white dog, namely for the camouflage in the fall. As it turns out, the ducks don’t really care. This little white dog is an amazing little duck dog, though not without her downfalls. I still don’t trust her coat for late season hunts and chasing a wing-tipped duck in heavy cover, in water, she isn’t the most powerful swimmer…now opener water is a different story. This little white dog, that often evokes laughs when I first tell people she is my hunting dog, has once again brought me back to the pursuit that I so love.
That brings us to this weekend and another new beginning. I’ve lowered my reluctance for opening days, and for the last several seasons opening duck has become a very important tradition that usually involves my best man and two years ago was the start of my bachelor party celebration. This year was my first as a Dad, which almost resulted in a missed opener. I hadn’t thought about who was working Saturday and what we would do with Grace. Wednesday of last week I realized Krista was on the schedule and we had no options for babysitting. All was not lost, I was able to get out close to town and be at the clinic by 9 to pick up the little one so Krista could go about her morning seeing appointments. It may have been a rushed, less than classic opener, but it was enjoyable to be back out in the field with this little dog watching her do what she does so well.
Here’s to the start of what I hope is a fantastic fall season.