Each year, it seems as though fall takes an eternity to arrive. The countless preparations and anticipation gives way to a season that quickly disappears amongst the early morning alarms and late nights of scouting. As soon as the season is over, there is a litany of memories from the season past. The sunrises, smells, great retrieves, the missed shots & opportunities run through my mind. There is constant reflection of what we could have done differently, how we are going to do better the next time and what the future holds. The truth is that when the last shot is fired and the gear is stored away, preparations for the next year have already begun. A mental list of inventories, gear conditions and tasks are taken note of. For many of us, the season never ends. I still look at open water as I drive past searching for birds. I take notes on what hot fields were planted with to compare with the next year. Just like our four legged hunting companions, the constant drive is something that is difficult to turn off. The focus that is required to string together early mornings and ceaseless work fogs our minds. Somewhere in the chaos that the season brings we forget just how we are able to accomplish all of the things that we do. In all of the time spent chasing our passions there is something that is often overlooked. It is the support from those we love that allows us to pursue our endeavors.
Without question I will drop everything for a single hunt, long weekend or even a weeklong excursion to chase winged creatures. Destination and travel time is trivial when an opportunity arises; whether I am the one who finds a spot or by invitation, if it is five minutes away or five hours. Family events and gatherings are put on the back burner so that I can take advantage of the seasons that allow me to chase birds. Some may argue that this proves my unwavering commitment for hunting, while others would see it in a different light. During these trips the dog is my constant companion and the wife is left at home alone. The term for this has been coined “hunter’s widow”, but more often than not this is referring to wives who are left alone for one or two weekends throughout the year. I know that my wife and multitudes of others would refer to these “hunters’ widows” as, lucky.
From (at least) September through December every weekend and a few carefully placed weeks are scheduled solely as, “Hunting”. While I may not know exactly where, I know that I will be out. That is the way that the game needs to be played in order to be successful. When I am not at work, there is a great chance that I will be out scouting until dark. If I am not out looking for places to hunt, I’m probably hunting. Like many people I struggle with having enough time in the field because, there can never be enough. Somehow, time is something that I always find a way to make more of when fall comes around. That means that burning the candle both ends and the middle becomes routine; life becomes a juggling act during the fall. If it weren’t for my wife, my world would be quickly become chaos.
Long before our recent nuptials, my wife knew of my hobbies. While she may not have known the amount of time that it takes in order to bring home table fare, she was willing to follow through with the ultimate commitment. Long gone (as far as I know) are the simpler times when wives would wake up with the old duck hunters and make breakfast and lunch before ventures. After a day of hunting, the bounty would be plucked, cleaned and cooked by significant others; I have only read or heard about these events. I do know, that is not a part of the process now. Instead there is a plethora of new idiosyncrasies that accompany an avian hunter and thus, offers a varying degree of acceptance that must come from the wife…
Trade-Offs: Once I found a spot holding a plethora of birds that was posted. I would have done anything to have been able to hunt there. I contacted the land owner who also happened to own a jewelry store. With the upcoming engagement plan, I tried to negotiate hunting privileges with the promise of purchasing an engagement ring from his store. The landowner didn’t find the offer enticing enough and passed on it. It doesn’t hurt to try.
Decoys: There simply can never be enough. A garage full of them overflowing into the house is something a non-hunter simply cannot understand. I always insist on buying my own and never receiving them as gifts so, my wife doesn’t find out what they actual cost.
Early Mornings: The distances needed to travel and competition for spots means my alarm clock goes off earlier and earlier. I am up and out the door in hours that my wife never knew existed. Given that I can never remember where I put things; she always remembers where they are, even if she is half asleep.
Calling: It can never be too early or too late to pull out the duck and goose calls to practice. The time of year doesn’t matter either. Dependent on the size of the house, it can make quite a racket.
Scouting: It takes up an awful lot of time finding the birds and getting permission to have success. My wife is willing to put up with taking the long way to anywhere we are going, just so I can check on spots. I have a habit of turning what should be a 5-mile drive to a restaurant into a 50-mile excursion. It never hurts to have a second set of eyes.
Feathers: Cleaning birds is a bit of a conundrum. There isn’t really a great way to clean birds without getting feathers all over. The best part is the way that they seem to find their way into every nook and cranny no matter what precautions are taken. However, my wife can never get enough rooster tail feathers to decorate with.
Freezer: The freezer is constantly full of game. I see it as a great way to enjoy free range, all natural, organic meat products – that don’t come from Whole Foods. There always seems to be a battle over freezer space with the ice cream. At times there will be birds that are left over for training or fly tying. After asking, “What’s in the bag?” the wife always needs to look and, is still surprised by what she finds.
Time Away: As previously stated I am gone a lot in the fall. Honey-do lists grow during this time period as I try to get other things accomplished. The definition of burning the candle on both ends becomes apparent. Projects that need to get done are taken aback. There is always time in the winter to get those done.
All things considered, I, and all the others who are surrounded by loved ones that are able to see our passion for the outdoors, are the lucky ones. We are encouraged to do what we love, even if it means foregoing time spent with them. They, in turn have to put up with the habits that accompany our hobbies. The truth in the matter is that things would be completely different if I didn’t have someone to ground me. It makes leaving easier, knowing that I will come home to a warm house and a happy greeting. Though she may feign interest in the hunting, she is always curious how the dog did and is happy to hear the stories. Every so often I can convince my wife to make an early morning trip with me to the blind so that she can see and experience all the things that I find so meaningful. The next thing on the list is a .20 gauge and the invitation to shoot the incoming birds. Maybe then, her passion for boots will be shifted towards the kind that get mud on them – but we’ll have to take it one step at a time.