by: Katey McClenny
photography by: Tyger Wilbanks and Westin Bryant

As opening day approaches, I find myself wondering again why I am so invested in this crazy sport called duck hunting. Why do we lose hours and hours of sleep between November and January? Why do we sacrifice time, money and sick days, when we could be making money? Why do we leave our warm beds to freeze in pouring rain and howling wind and 20 degree weather? How many excuses have I used to go hunting, how many times do we rationalize it in our minds? Money spent on gas, food, lodging, gear, decoys, guns, boats…the list goes on.

I don’t think there will ever be a perfect answer put into words that people who don’t hunt can ever understand. It is like anything so mystical, so awesome, something so intense and indescribable like love or faith. You must live it to truly understand it. While you can’t fully give the true meaning with words, I think we can come close.

There is something so amazing about seeing a sunrise over a timber hole, or a sunset over a corn field, that you feel for a short time like there is nothing wrong with the world. Hunters experience some of the most awe filled moments that most are never blessed to see.

If you have never watched 5 thousand ducks tornado into a flooded rice field, you haven’t lived yet. If you haven’t seen hundreds upon hundreds of ducks come into roost at sunset against a pink and black and red sky, you haven’t lived yet. If you have never been buzzed by 45 ring necks flying 65 miles an hour over your decoy spread, you haven’t lived yet.

You haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed a duck sanctuary, until you’ve watched the sun replace the moon, until you’ve worked a group of mallards into your spread, answering them note for note. It’s the emerald green sparkling in the sun, dancing off iridescent heads, dropping down through the trees. It’s the intensity in the eyes of your best hunting buddy’s face as sharp canine eyes scan the skies. Theses are the moments we live for, and the times we never forget. It’s what duck hunters chase.

To me, it’s all the craziness and chaos minutes before shooting light. It’s hustling to reposition that last decoy, make sure the flapper is on, finding your blind bag and shells. It’s realizing what you left and deciding you don’t need it. It’s yelling to be quiet and praying that all the work is about to pay off and become one of those hunts that you will tell your kids about.

It’s being a steward of the land. It’s praying to God at sunrise and thanking Him for letting you live in a free country and enjoy His beautiful masterpiece. It’s hearing His Spirit speak like you can’t hear anywhere else.

Feeling at one with nature, becoming part of the animal, learning his ways and habits and sounds, understanding how he lives and becoming part of that experience is all part of hunting. It is respecting a wild animal and valuing his existence as part of creation. We admire these creatures and are blessed by them. We fight for conservation and the ability to able to pass this sport down to our children and future generations.

With an aching back leaned against a hard tree and numb fingers clutching cold steel, we still love it. Through the good hunts and bad, blue bird days and dreary rains, we come back year after year.

Spent shells across the nation unite duck hunters in a common legacy of heritage, preservation, and hard working retrievers.

Putting in time and work and money and energy into watching a field grow, or setting up a blind, and then seeing the reward from that hard work is one of life’s best gifts. Hunting teaches us this.

Hunting is valuable time spent with family, friends, and the best dogs. It has forged both the richest traditions in my family and the deepest friendships of profound devotion in my life. It is great food and great times, late nights and early mornings, cold weather and long rides home.

It will always be a part of me, and I hope I never grow tired of chasing those feathers.

So here’s to you, duck hunters everywhere. To many more miles, memories, and mornings in the blind.