The 2019 waterfowl season is forecast to be a good one, weather permitting. With a liberal season, hunters should find some good hunting.
In past years the number of hunters declined with the ducks, but in more recent years, now that the birds have staged a comeback, so have the hunters. Water conditions play a large part in waterfowl hunting. This year there is plenty of water for the forecasted large number of waterfowl heading our way.
Real duck hunters are a special breed. They sit for hours in cold weather waiting for a chance to have a flock of ducks sail into their spread of decoys. Once you have experienced the thrill of calling a passing flock of mallards into shooting range as they look over your blind, you will be hooked.
First light on a crisp November morning, you are knee-deep in leaf-strewn muddy water, one arm snugged comfortably into the trunk of an old oak, scanning the skyline with your faithful retriever at your side. You are holding a shotgun in one hand and an old duck call in the other. The wood of both has the smooth finish coming from countless hours of handling.
Neither the gun or call would appear valuable to the casual onlooker, but value is a subjective thing and to you they're beyond all calculation of worth. You know, objectively, these two tools aren't worth much if your measure is dollars and cents. Pawn shops are full of guns like the one you are holding, and there are six more calls in your shell sounding as good as this one.
The old gun has been with you a long time, predating the steel shot rigs that have in the past decade re-defined the perfect duck gun. That old pump has been with you on countless hunts for everything from rail to quail and even Donald Trump couldn't afford to buy it.
And the duck call? It was one you've carried since high school days. It's a scarred, battered old thing, but it's a genuine antique mallard handmade back in the ’50's by Tom Walker from a block of wood and it isn't for sale either.
Meanwhile, legal shooting time has been approaching with the speed of stampeding snails. The sound of gunfire nearby brings you back and a glance at your wristwatch tells you those shots are being pushed a little. There are still a few minutes to go. The last minutes masquerade as hours, but finally it is time.
The morning's first flight of workable mallards crosses the pink sky 175 yards east, intermittently visible through the trees. They are low, looking and your hail call turns them around. They beeline for your position, but at 75 yards a quarter mile south a barrage of gunfire from a group of hunters flares them.
The same thing pretty much happens with the second flock of ducks a few minutes later, but the third group breaks the magic 20-yard circle. You and your partner take a green head apiece.
It is a humbling thing to hold a freshly slain duck in your hand. A wild duck has both heft and weightlessness. He is dense and heavy yet somehow elusive and ephemeral at the same time.
As you hold this one you notice how the water beads on his feathers. You take a few seconds out of your hunt to think about where he has come from and what he has gone through on his way to this backwater rendezvous.
If you are truly a duck hunter (as opposed to a killer of ducks), you feel a vague little sadness. It won't make you curse, tear out your hair, throw out your gun or quit duck hunting. You will just feel a twinge of regret, that's all.
The feeling is rooted in a number of complex, basically unexplainable things: you killed him because you loved him to complete the inevitable cycle of life you embraced when you became a hunter; and there can be no such thing as catch-and-release duck hunting.
Like a bass or crappie, a wild duck is too valuable a creature to take just one time, but that's the way we have to do it. Much as you might like to, you cannot release this light yet heavy, this common, simple but complex creature of the wild we know as a duck. So you brush the water off his feathers, lay him carefully on a log and get back to your calling, so you can bring one of his cousins inside the magic circle and complete the cycle again. And you feel the curious mix of joy, sadness, awe, reverence, love and regret as well as the heartfelt thanks you feel every single time you bring a mallard out of the sky.
And all of that, but especially the last part, is why you are a duck hunter.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in the outdoors as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.