For hunters without kids, it's relatively easy to prepare for a hunt. You just stop doing whatever it is you're doing, and you go get your gear ready, probably for a hunt on the very next morning. Can't do that with young kids around, though they are energetic and underfoot every moment they are awake. Laying out and counting shotgun shells, lead weights, and knives is just not a toddler compatible activity. Then there's the very real possibility that the distracted and exhausted parent forgot to pack some important gear. Hunting license. Life jacket. Push pole. All are easy to forget.
And so, in the depths of my crisp, cool basement at 1:30am, I prepare, check, and recheck. It's 36 hours before my next hunt, and it's January, so conditions could change drastically between now and when I let my first decoy sail through the air and into the creek. Almost every piece of gear I've packed could be rendered useless by a shift in the wind forecast or a wild swing in the temperature forecast. And there's nothing I can do about it.
I'm preparing for the kind of hunt I used to know how to manage. The kind of hunt that taught me about hunting. I'm not speaking of mallard hunts over rice, or pintails in flooded corn. I taught myself to hunt on shallow saltwater in January. The decoy spread isn't diverse or beautiful. Honestly, unless wigeon are in town, it just can't be. 5 magnum black ducks. 4 life size black ducks. 3 magnum buffleheads off the edge of the decoy spread. 15 life size bluebills on a long line that I'll be converting to a jerk line as I sit in the blind. Five floating geese (two pairs and a single). That's it. 30 decoys in January.
I hope to get out there, mid-afternoon, and enjoy the wind. Enjoy the silence. And also to enjoy the luxury of setting up for a hunt in broad daylight. I hope that the wind forecast doesn't change. That the forecast doesn't change from rain to bright sunshine. If it does, I will have lost my gamble. All those decoys will sit in the basement until another hunt on another day. I'll have to patiently wait for my son to go to bed on the night before my hunt and then furiously put together gear for a very different hunt than I'm envisioning. A whole lot could go wrong before I wade out into that river. A lot more could go wrong once I arrive there.
And that's the gamble. To succeed as a result of it is good; to succeed in spite of it is remarkable. For now, I'm ready for that wind - I'll be sitting on the leeward side of a sandbar, protected by a huge shield of growing bamboo. I'm ready for that marsh. It's smell as I crush its surface and plunge my wader boot deep into the layered mix of sand, mud, and gravel. I'm ready for that low tide that will give ducks a chance to eat in the mud all afternoon, all while being unaware of my presence.
It's January. Time to gamble on ducks and geese.