It’s mid-August and while most people have the beach and pool on their mind, I can only think about cool October days with ducks flying overhead. The anticipation starts then, dreams of woodies whistling and weaving through the trees, mallards so fully plumaged you can spot the greenheads from a mile away. This hunt comes once a year, and this year it had greater meaning than usual, as for the next four years the swamp hunt would be put on hold for myself while I begin my college career. With this in mind, my preparation for opening day was more detailed than years past. I wanted this hunt to be perfect; I imagined flocks of mallards cupping their wings and falling right into the decoys, and beautiful wood ducks buzzing through.
As August turned to September and September to October, opening day was around the corner. The week leading up to the hunt is always fun. The excitement is inevitable when my dad and I start talking about hunts from years past. Every night the imagination runs wild on whether this hunt will be a bust or turn out just like we had planned. It seems like we looked at the weather forecast every hour to make sure our spot would have the wind at our back. We pack up the gear three nights before and wait impatiently for Saturday to come.
Finally, Friday evening arrives and we load the canoe onto the car and toss the gear in, preparing for the hour-and-a-half drive upstate. Spirits are high at dinner and conversations are filled with hope and enthusiasm. The alarm goes off at 2 a.m. and I jump out of bed. I throw on the clothes I placed out the night before and head downstairs. We hit the road around 2:30 a.m. and the journey begins. The car ride is filled with stories I’ve heard and told a thousand times but feel brand new. Worried about getting a parking spot, we arrive at 4 a.m. to find we are the first car there. We launch the canoe, load the gear and turn the headlamps on as we start our paddle into the swamp.
The paddle begins, navigating through the swamp while looking up to the clear sky to see thousands of stars. Darkness encompasses the marsh, with my headlamp leading the way. I start to build a sweat going up and down over beaver dams. A great blue heron echoes throughout the dark swamp as we head deeper into the marsh.
We finally arrive at our spot with 45 minutes until shooting time. The decoys are placed out strategically and we wait patiently for first light. As I sit there I start to recall all the good hunts I’ve had here and the memories I’ve made, and hope this hunt can add to them. I watch the clock turn to the magic time and start to load my shells. It wasn’t long before a Woodie came cruising in. I stood up and dropped the beautiful bird in one shot. “Nice shot!” my dad says with excitement. Only minutes in and we already had a duck in the bag; I was ready for the best hunt of my life.
Unlike many hunts before this, the birds just weren’t there. But even with the slow flight I was still able to pull out a hen and drake wood duck. Once the flight came to a complete stop around 10 a.m., I looked over at my dad and I could see the disappointment on his face. We expected a ton of birds flying like years past, but it wasn’t the case.
We started to paddle out and as we went through the old swamp a sadness came over me. I knew it would be a while before I come back to the swamp again. It’s amazing how attached you can get to a certain place. The swamp has provided me with so many great memories: my first wood duck, my first mallard and, most importantly, memories with my father.
The swamp built a connection between my dad and I like no other place. My dad has taught me everything I know about hunting and conservation, and a lot of it I learned in the swamp. Some guys judge hunts on how many birds are in the bag or what type of birds they take. But as weeks passed after that hunt I realized how much it meant to me. Spending time with family in the outdoors is priceless and irreplaceable. It wasn’t until a month after that I realized it wasn’t the woodies or mallards I was going to miss so much, but rather going on hunts with my dad. My father is the one who has inspired me to study wildlife in college and I know he is excited for me and my pursuit of a career in wildlife conservation. For many days, I tried to think of a way to thank my dad for all the great hunts in my childhood. I soon realized the best gift I could give him would be to one day go on a hunt with him and his grandkid. My dad has taught me the tradition of hunting and what it means to be a hunter, and I hope one day I can pass that down to the next generation.
By: Ryan Chelius
Published December 25th, 2015, New York Outdoor News