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David Guterson
December 07, 1987
Opening day is a beginning and an end for one family
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December 07, 1987

When The Hunt Is Done

Opening day is a beginning and an end for one family

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Marsh reeds, golden cattails, pockets of gray water as far as you could see, north and south. The sage desert, impossibly large, rolled away to the east. While we watched, a string of teal vectored in, just where we'd had our set, or decoys, for so many seasons. We heard shooting, the first shots of the day, and a teal plummeted like a ball of coal. Soon the sounds of shooting came from every quarter.

"We're a little late," I said. "It's open season."

"What happened to Sean?"

"Getting into his waders."

"Channel moves farther out every year. Deeper, too."

"We can lay our set this side of the channel, Pop. No reason to try and cross."

We scrambled out on a point of sedge and worked our waders on. Sean had laid out his things beneath a thorn willow. "Let's go," he said to us. "Come on."

I let him lead. Bunched tightly, we followed the bracken margins, hip high in water for a quarter mile or so, guns aloft, going laterally with the pull of the wasteway. You could feel it sucking hard against the backs of your waders. I watched while a pair of trout shot away, moving in tandem toward the reeds.

Pop found a dependable set—high marsh just upwind, good drift, thick bracken. We anchored the decoys at the low end, down current but well out in the open. It was belly-high work, so I did the deep wading. Pop had his pipe lit and stood in the reeds, tossing the decoys out to me; then each of us took a 20-yard stretch of of the bank and faded into the camouflage.

The first ducks came in before an hour went by. They were mallards, a group of four, wheeling across from the wheat fields, where they had fed under the stars, and skittish because all their familiar places, this day, echoed with gunshots. I beckoned them first with a feeding call—a series of low, gradual chuckles—and then with the harsh cry of hen to drake. They circled twice, wide arcs in order to cover the high reeds to the north. On the third pass all four set their wings and rode in, the wind bucking them up a bit. I saw them fluff up their breast feathers; there was some splashing confusion about the decoys.

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