“Have you been practicing your duck calling?” Blares the voice on the other side of the phone. “Well…” I whistle through my teeth. Guilt sets in. I cycle through the reservoir of excuses I have stored just for such an occasion.
"Why do I need to call?" I think. This guy's from Louisiana. State law requires they only speak duck from birth to five, then their parents teach them a few guttural grunts that pass for English, they grow beards, then construct duck blinds that are more extravagant than my house. I smile at myself, knowing how dead on my perception of reality really is.
“Alright, I’ll carry you for another season. See you at the parking lot Friday morning. We’ll put a flag in our spot, it’s going to be busy up there.” Dane says and hangs up the phone.
I roll out of Denver and make the trek into the mountains bright and early Friday morning.
"Twenty-four hours before the opener,” starts the conversation with the dogs. “This year we’re getting our spot locked down. Hope you two have been taking those swimming lessons seriously that I paid so much for. Mr. Phelps doesn’t come cheap, though for some reason he agreed quicker than I thought he would. Something about Colorado’s lax laws. I’ll have to look into that…”
The conversation goes on like this for the two-hour drive and by the time I see Dane in the agreed upon parking lot a Murdocks, my jaw is cramping. The dogs bolt out of the truck. Hmm, must not have agreed with my improvised monologue of the Gettysburg Address.
“Ready?” Comes the question from the gentle giant.
Shells are bought and we head out. We should have the pick of the litter being here so early.
I’m dumbfounded as we drive by the dirt parking lot after dirt parking lot filled with trucks and bearded men. We pull over.
“This place looks like a Walmart parking lot having a Duck Dynasty DVD signing on a Black Friday. I didn’t know this many people even lived in Colorado.” I say in exasperation.
“Yea, slim pickings, let’s mosey,” Dane replies, unfazed by my wit.
We run through plans B through H before we find something suitable. Text messages are sent out to the rest of the crew meeting up with us tonight. Food is eaten, fires are put out. Time for a few hours of shut-eye.
Reluctantly, we pull ourselves out of our sleeping bags at 3:00am. Coffee is fired up in the Jetboils AS we head towards the Colorado River. I learned this tactic on long drives down to Mexico in search of dorado. The driver attempts to keep the vehicle on the road while the passenger boils the coffee in a Jetboil. Pee in a Gatorade bottle and call in the Air Force for on-road refueling, cross the border at 60 miles and hour and hope there isn't machine gun fire. Another story for another time, back to ducks.
As we approach our predetermined spot, we realize our mistake. We should have slept in the parking lot. Illegal, yes, and apparently we were the only ones to get the memo. Everything is full.
I’ll spare you the frustration and cursing that pursues. Let’s fast forward.
We squeeze into a spot with just enough room to swing our guns. The blinds are made and dogs tremble in anticipation as Dane and I go about setting up the decoys. The quarter sized tear allowing the Colorado river to fill up my waders to the ankles can’t get me down, this is freaking opening day.
“One minute boys. Oh, and girl. On my signal, unleash hell.” Dane says in his best Russel Crow imitation.
Hazel, Shaun, Dane and I are tucked in the willows, everything is temporarily silent. We see some movement in the air, then the whistle of air as it interrupted by high-speed projectiles. We assume they are ducks, or possibly invading Russian mig jets.
D-Day. The moment arrives with a wall of lead in the air. Guns roar in every direction. What has been a peaceful nine months turns into a nightmare for these unsuspecting ducks. This must be close to what pilots and their crew experienced over France while frac pummeled the skies and their planes.
Birds are everywhere as Dane feverishly howls on his calls. A pang of guilt hits every time a bird comes in closer because of his expertise. Next year, right? Right.
We bag a couple of birds before the sun creeps into the bluebird sky. The dogs retrieve flawlessly. Their nine months of unemployment doesn't erase what hundreds of years of breeding instilled. At the strike of 9:00am the faucet is turned off. As fast as the action started is as fast as it stops.
"Breakfast burritos." Hazel smiles at the thought, not realizing her words were said allowed.
I love tradition. Almost simultaneously everyone murmurs the same in unison, "Breakfast burritos."
Decoys are packed and we head out. Crazy as opening day is, I don't think I'll ever skip it. Yes, it's busy, but busy by other like minded people enjoying it for the same reasons I am; friends, ducks and breakfast burritos.