Kevin Tate | V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak
A breeze kicked up out of the north as the hushed whistle of wingbeats passed through the black air above. Water lapped quietly at the base of the blind. Inside, two Labrador retrievers whined with nervous excitement as they poked their noses through holes so they could look too. They stood with us on wooden planking, inches above the water, as their wagging tails beat a rhythm against our legs. They were almost as excited as I was.
The eastern sky had turned a lighter darkness of blue but had not yet begun to redden. Legal shooting hours were many minutes away. The Milky Way still traced a band of white across the heavens.
We checked the time and waited silently as the horizon soon grew bright. Stars winked out from east to west. Mallards were beginning to stir in earnest now and, by now, we could see them, outlines of gray scudding fast and low above open water, sliding deftly among the trees, setting up a gabble of quacking. We knew they’d be circling our decoys soon.
Presently the north wind gathered speed again as it delivered something colder, swaying the limbs of the willows above. In front of us, the decoys rocked and bobbed and began attracting attention. We’d just entered legal shooting hours when the first flight of mallards turned closer and dipped their heads for a better look. Undecided at first they cupped their wings and dropped, then resumed their cruising beat and climbed, then cupped, coasted and dropped again, all while tracing a spiral that grew tighter.
“I’d say kill ‘em,” one of my friends finally offered as the birds turned to pass over the middle. Our first volley brought two greenheads and the hunt had officially begun.
Did you ever see two youngsters compete for the right to a task they knew would earn praise? The older asserting seniority and the younger clamoring for their shot at me-too? The retrievers, both eager and well-trained, couldn’t help themselves.
The older swam back fast with a superior air, most of the first duck held high above the water. The younger crowded his left flank and mouthed enough feathers to muddy the claim. Both returned to the blind triumphant, and nobody had the heart to offer a scolding. They fetched the second duck the same way.
As they climbed back into the blind and shook, we all drew a fresh breath of wet dog, gun smoke and sunshine, the ideal start to any day.