My wife wrote this 40 years ago, but I find it still brings me luck to read it this time of year.

The red twilight of early dawn had just broken the blue darkness of the fall night. Cool crispness of air vaporized the exhaled breaths of man and dog, settling into their concealed spot of waiting. The man running through his mental checklist; decoys, call, gun, shells, wind, dog. A smile broke his unshaven grizzled face as he tenderly laid a hand on the dog’s head. The dog returning the gesture with a look into his eyes telling him she was ready.

A glance skyward, the waning moon fading away into the pink shrouded clouds of sunrise told the man he still had several minutes to wait before the first shots of the season. With coffee in hand he settled back to listen to the sounds of the morning, the restless stir of his lab, the subtle lapping of water on the shore, far off calling of a cow. All music to his ears, none what he wanted to hear.

The rising steam off the waters surface brought his gaze to the bobbing gray shapes of his decoys. Yes the pattern looked good, it is always hard to tell in his predawn rush to get them out if they landed in the right formation. His mind started drifting to past and future hunts, the same dreams and restless anticipation that had prevented a good night’s sleep.

Bear, the second season Labrador was the first to hear it, her head shot skyward lifting her body into a coil-spring sit in one move. The abruptness of the dog triggered the man into action, coffee cup thrown aside, shotgun loaded and ready, eyes straining, ears listening. There it was. A chill went through his body. Oh, that sound. So meaningful, yet so hard to explain. It packed the excitement of the Blue Angels, as natural as the wind through the pines. Teal coming in. Damn, still too dark. With blood ignited, heart pumping, both man and dog found it hard to settle back down- first hunt rush, the feeling that keeps them coming back for more. The sunrays starting to peek over the hill, criss crossing flights of ducks viewed further out over the water.

With the simplicity of a schoolboy the man brought the wooden duck call to his lips-there’s a group. With well-practiced quacks the ducks turned for another look. Being the opening day of season, their caution was down. They started their descent, wings locked.
The man fought the urge to jump up and skybust, forgot to remind the Labrador to stay. Beautiful setup, I might be able to get a double, he thought as he raised up to shoot. Bam! The lab saw the teal fall, she forgot the months of training and the numerous retrieves of last year. She could stand it no longer; she was leaping into the water as the bird hit. It had fallen close, the lab had it in her mouth before the man could yell. Sighing, he watched her bring it into the duck blind. His glare told the dog she had done wrong, his silence told her she would get by with it this time. He took the bird, the dog smiled, sorry boss. Places resumed; season started.

[Lone Watie hears a gun [censored] behind him; turns and sees Moonlight]

Lone Watie : It's not right, this damn woman doing something like this to me. I used to have power. Now old age is creeping up on me.

Josey Wales : More like old habits than old age.