October 29, 2016: Kansas Duck Opener – A Day of Firsts & Lasts

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The first day of the season is always something special. It’s usually among the more optimistic days; you are at the head of a trail you know well, and love deeply. It’s as familiar and traditional as it is new, exciting, and mysterious. It marks the first of several months of spending all of your free time afield. Even with expectations often low, knowing the migration has not yet begun its big push, it fuels our hope for a long and prosperous season by simply being a participant.

The opener is always something special. Today would be no different in that regard, for many reasons.

For one, I slept just fine last night. This may be the first time I can ever remember getting a full, decent night’s sleep prior to the opener. I am not sure if this is me getting old, or the fact that I have taken a very mellow and realistic approach to this particular opener – simply because we’ve had very little weather, no migration to speak of, poor scouting reports, and I wasn’t looking forward to fighting mosquitoes in the 70-80 degree fishing weather we’d be hunting in.

Not a bad thing; just realistic, tempered expectations. I was mentally prepared to enjoy my coffee and have breakfast with some of my closest friends while watching that amazing Kansas sunrise. This is never a bad thing.
So with the bar set rather low in terms of winged expectations, the focus fell elsewhere. In addition to the excitement of a new season dawning, there was a need to recognize – to honor – the fact that another “season” was setting.

This will, without question, be our final season with Miss Dakota. I will save my long-winded tribute for another time, as I do have words to share regarding this 13 year-old furry chocolate ball of drive and desire. For now, I’ll elect to enjoy and celebrate our moments with her as her twilight days fade and become treasured memories. This entire season will be one of “lasts” when it comes to a companion that has given so very much to us.

This day – the day that was supposed to be about little more than breakfast and a sunrise – started off with a surprise, as four gadwall dropped in for a very short – and permanent – visit. It’s nice to exceed my expectations in terms of birds in the first couple of minutes.

This was duplicated again a bit later, followed by a few more, and even a renegade lone mallard. At some point, we simply got caught up in that opening day magic, and before we knew it, the sunrise coffee date with the boys now included a fine bag of fowl.

A grand morning, a very special morning. The first of a hopeful new season. The last opener for one of our dearest furry members of this special brotherhood. And one of many small tales that continue to make up our collective life afield.

Today’s tale was about watching Dakota – in a moment that embodied the true feeling of what the opener is all about – equal parts deeply rooted tradition and brand-newness – as she worked, more slowly than ever, to those birds. As beautiful and perfect as it was sad to see her move so delicately, but so willingly, so longingly. Like a 13 year-old Lab.

Just don’t try and tell her that.

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