Until you slide off into 40-degree water on a chilly January morning, you haven’t really experienced all that nature has to offer.
Granted, you’re allowed to wear four layers of clothes under your waders, a decision you initially regret as you work up a sizable sweat hauling decoys, shotguns and other sundry duck hunting gear into a remote west Alabama swamp in complete darkness.
It’s 5 a.m., and your adrenaline rush is still winning the battle with exhaustion from a night of anxious sleep. The only sound filling your ears is the steady cadence of your rubber wader feet hitting the ground and your decoys sliding against one another. At that point, you hope today will be the day you see more than just wood ducks.
A great-horned owl hoots to announce his last hunt of the night. You pray your morning is as productive as his night was.
Your elevated body temperature makes that first little step into the wintry world of water awfully welcome. Still several yards away from your honey hole, you begin your swamp stomp.
Navigating this alternate universe can be tricky. The swamp inhabitants want you to work for it.
As you slowly and successfully dodge the beaver runs, trying not to float your hat, you thank God for giving you the foresight to buy the “good” long underwear and say a silent blessing for whoever invented waders.
You finally arrive at what appears to be a small patch of land protruding from the water. You check the wind because you know its direction will play a factor in the flight patterns of your favorite fowl. You smile to yourself thinking, “Cigarettes aren’t always bad for you.”
After you stealthily and strategically place your decoys in the surrounding water, you assume your preferred post amid the boot-swallowing mud, prickly blackberry bushes, and leafless maple trees.
Virtually invisible, you add one last coat of black paint to your face. Your numb fingers signal how cold your hands truly are. The extra blood has obviously left to service your pounding heart.
You load your shells. You say a silent prayer. You wait for legal light.
Mornings like this make a person keenly aware of nature’s ability to test man’s physical limits.
What begins as a battle morphs into an initiation of sorts. By testing your body’s ability to handle the elements and your ability to get inside the head of nature’s most intelligent creatures, you begin to earn the right of passage into a world in which few humans can claim residence.
Waterfowlers spend 60 days of the year actively pursuing their passion. The other 305 days are spent in preparation for that pursuit — monitoring weather events, studying flight patterns, and learning the swamp like the back of their hands.
While that mindset might sound like a waste of time to those too far removed to care, those who truly understand its ability to connect humans to the waterfowl world find infinite rewards hidden in the swamp.
If you ardently desire to be an active member of that society, you’ll walk out with more than just supper.