By Steve Weisman
Openers, I think people who love to fish and hunt live for openers. I mean, really, openers give us reasons to prepare and anticipate the next “big thing.” Year after year, openers come and go and come and go. Preparation and planning…even though they are the same openers, no opener is ever quite like the first one. Each one has its own little subtle differences.
So, in a way, openers throughout the year are like Christmas! For anglers, there is one official opener, the Walleye Opener, but there are also the seasons, which lead to openers of their own for a variety of fish during each season.
However, hunting seasons contain all kinds of openers from waterfowl, to small game, to big game, to trapping to…I think you get the idea. We already have fall hunting openers: the dove season, the cottontail rabbit and squirrel seasons are now open.
The early duck opener is the corresponding date as last year, opening on Saturday, September 21. It’s a short five-day season, but I would guess that more ducks are shot during this season than the entire regular season. It is the perfect season for youngsters, a great time to get them involved in the art of duck hunting.
Until this last hot, windy spell, it looked like thing were going to be good this year for water. The larger sloughs were all hanging in there pretty well, but the smaller ones were drying up quickly. Another week of this, and we could be in trouble. I think we remember way too well how last year’s drought conditions wreaked havoc on area sloughs.
We can only hold our breath and pray for some much needed rain, and keep an eye on our favorite hunting spots. At this point, local duck numbers are excellent with ducks spread out on a lot of sloughs. If we can keep enough water, it will keep the ducks spread out and also help hunters with choices of where to hunt.
That points to a good early season opener. So keep your fingers crossed.
Duck hunting requires preparation. Now is the time to check out the equipment. If you will be using a boat, motor and trailer, have you checked them out? Nothing worse than heading to the slough early in the morning to find out that the motor won’t run or the drain plug is missing, the bearings are bad or a trailer tire is flat!
How about the blind? Is it in good working condition? If it has been kept in storage, did the mice get into it?
Then the decoys…are lines and weights in good shape or is there a tangled mess from the last hunt last year? Any decoys that need repair or need to be replaced? Do you use a motorized decoy (like a Robo Duck)? If so, is the battery in good shape? How about the spinning wings? How about the pole that the motorized decoy sits on?
Next, the gun and ammo. Has the shotgun been cleaned? Are all the parts working correctly? Is the plug in place, or did it get taken out during pheasant season and not put back? Do you have the right size shot for the opener, or do you only have heavy loads for late season and goose hunting? Make sure it isn’t lead shot!
Have you and your hunting party done any sporting clays or trap shooting? Not only does that help with getting your shooting eye back, but it’s also a fun activity. This activity is especially important for youngsters entering or who are relatively new to the sport. It also helps with a reminder of shooting rules and etiquette. The more youngsters can handle a gun, the more comfortable they get with the weight, the swing, squeezing the trigger…all of the little things that make for safe, responsible hunters.
How about license and stamps? Nothing worse than thinking you have everything and then finding out the night before that you are missing the federal stamp, and you can’t get one until Monday!
How about your clothes and waders? Do the waders leak? Do the clothes still fit? How about a youngster? They grow fast and a year can make a huge difference?
Don’t forget to scout out your hunting spots. Things change even in the last week, and you don’t want to go on what things looked like a couple of weeks ago. If you will be using a ramp, is the passage open, or is it still closed with a thick stand of rushes? If it is, what is Plan B?
If you have a hunting dog for a partner, is the dog ready? Nothing is worse than having decoys set out, a duck is shot and the dog begins retrieving decoys! Worse yet, while setting out decoys, the dog jumps in the water and gets tangled up in a bunch of anchor weights, string and decoys!
Yes, it’s all about planning. As the season gets closer, our hunting party starts preparing. My father-in-law, my son, son-in-law, grandson and I spend a lot of time in “strategic planning sessions,” as I call them. My wife has another phrase for it! But then, that’s part of the fun. Putting all of these pieces of the puzzle together makes the pre-season go faster and the anticipation grow. I wouldn’t have it any other way!