Jeremy Stephens, Regional Director on 09/20/2012
It happens every fall: Dedicated waterfowlers emerge from the grind we call life. Friends who haven't spoken in months suddenly become inseparable, building blinds, stringing decoys and swapping the same stories they did last year. Waterfowl season is on the horizon, and the gathering of your hunting buddies in anticipation feels like a bunch of rock stars getting the band back together for a world tour.
Everyone has their offseason life and career, which is filled with overtime at the office, coaching your kid's little league team and the mandatory family vacation. Family and work engulf the offseason, but for a couple months out of the year, they take a back seat to the ducks. Rockers do it for the music, just like waterfowlers do it for the ducks. Either way, the excitement is through the roof.
It starts with a phone call. The lead singer invites a couple guys over for a jam session. Grilling the last few duck breasts from the previous season and telling stories from the road turns to boat modifications and scouting adventures. Before you know it, you're calling each other in the middle of the night with hair-brained ideas on new strategies that should turn the tide in your favor. Ideas become plans, and plans become reality.
All of the strategizing and game planning culminates on opening day. You wave bye to your families as the tour bus hauls you off to early morning sunrises filled with buzzing teal and squealing woodies. On fresh legs, the first half of the tour consists of great weather, mixed bags and great camaraderie. Building momentum for the peak migration, the band starts to fine-tune their instruments. Soon enough, every member is dialed in, hitting every note and anticipating perfectly when to bust out a solo routine. This crew is a well-oiled machine.
There are always bumps in the road, though. Flat tires and shelled lower units nearly cause missed shows. Egos and false premonitions lead to less-than-stellar performances. Disagreements about where to set up and false claims for leg iron cause animosity. The tough days, the mile hikes through knee-deep mud, frozen fingers, jammed guns and leaky waders separate the men from the boys. No doubt you will lose a few crewmembers along the way. Those fair-weather guys who simply can't hack life on the road will ignore phone calls and make excuses, eventually forcing you to give up on them. All of these things just strengthen the bond of the remaining core for the big push.
The weatherman brings the good news: Arctic air is pushing south and soon the Dakotas are covered with snow. The big push is coming. While most sane people are still in bed, the band is setting up for the big show. Surveying the venue, each member knows what needs to be done and quickly go to work. Decoys are strategically placed and extra brush is applied to the blind to ensure you are invisible. The band goes backstage to wait for the show to start. For the first time since opening day, the performers have butterflies. Everyone anticipates this show will be the one to remember. Everything is lined up. All that is left to do is wait.
This is the big one! Thousands of mallards pouring in from the north seem to be chanting in unison like a sold-out stadium calling for their favorite band. They pile in, filling every vacant seat. Peeking through the blind doors, the band sees the sea of greenheads waiting for them. They study their watches, counting every second off until shoot time. The lights are about to come on. More and more mallards fill the sky.
Showtime. "Take 'em!"
The blind doors fling open. The crowd goes wild. As if they were fans rising to their feet, ducks flush. Shotguns blast out the beat, throwing steel into the legion of ducks.
It is the show you have waited for. It does not disappoint. Every familiar song plays perfectly. Limits are easy. The band plays on just to enjoy the show. High-fives rein over breakfast sandwiches at the truck.
Through the next couple of weeks, the tour rolls on, with many great hunts. Many of the shows will be remembered for years to come. None though, will top the big push.
As the season-long tour draws to a close, reality sets in. Everyone knows that real life will have to resume again. But next year, you will be waiting for that voice on the other end of the line to say, "We're getting the band back together."