I went hunting for ducks this morning with my good friend, Steve. I love hunting more than anything in the world. I get so excited about it, even after almost 30 years of hunting. I still feel like a kid on Christmas when I am doing it.
Steve is a lot busier than I am. I don't do shit, and Steve has a 53-acre farm that he takes care of, he's a pastor of a church, and the dude started his own elementary school, I kid you not. He built a private school for kids whose parents didn't like the public school system. We have been hunting together for 20 years. That's a long damn time. Some of the best memories in my life have been with Steve. Oh, I almost forgot: He's a dog trainer also, and a breeder of badass Labradors, including my own Rebel. He taught me everything that I know about training dogs. And he raised a bunch of kids and stepkids. You see, Steve is one of those guys who do it. He doesn't talk about it, he gets into action and doesn't stop until he's done. I don't know what drives the man. Well, I think it's some type of search for real truth, that's what I feel. And some justice. And like he says, "Who else is gonna do it?"
So, he's really busy and I wait by the phone for his text the night before we are supposed to hunt, to make sure that we are really going the next morning. After a while, I can't stand the waiting, so I text him, and then my phone buzzes in reply. It is Steve with the particulars on when to meet him the next morning. I feel a rush of excitement go through me and Rebel can tell that I'm happy. He tilts his head at me, and I say to him, "Hunting tomorrow, big boy!"
Now, it is time to get ready.
The night before we hunt, Rebel follows me around while I walk up and down the steps carrying my hunting stuff from the basement. He walks right at heel and then looks at me when we get upstairs and is like, are we going now? And I say to him we aren't going til the morning, til the morning. But I really love that he does that because it means that he knows that he is going to do something that he loves above all else. Just seeing that excitement in him makes it worthwhile. And the next morning, at 4am, he follows me outside and back inside over and over while I load the truck and finally he gets on my damn nerves so much that I tell him to "load up" and I put him in the truck. Then we leave in the dark on our way to Maryland and we listen to country music or the Duck Commander podcast on the way and Rebel jumps from the back seat to the front seat to the back. It used to drive me nuts, but now I ignore it and laugh at it. Royal Farms is the next stop for us. I meet Steve there and we got coffee and said our greetings. I hadn't seen Steve in a few months, and it was good to see him.
And then after a short drive, we arrived at a private farm on the beautiful Susquehanna River. We had access to a thousand acres with not one other person on it. Steve and I waded out and with Rebel swimming right beside us, put out some decoys. It was so beautiful, looking at the River with the mist on it and the geese and ducks. It wasn't a day where the action was none stop and the barrels were hot, but it was wonderful. Steve shot one duck and Rebel went out into the water and grabbed it and brought it back to me. You see, different than what most non-hunters think, it's about the experience, not how much game was killed.
We have always had some deep conversations when we are together, but we also laugh and tell old hunting stories. It's a huge part of what I love about going, talking to a good friend whom you have a lot in common with and who understands you.
After 4 hours, we decided to call it a day. Rebel swam around us again as we brought in the decoys. Steve and I said our goodbyes, gave each other a hug and said we couldn't wait to do it all over again. I rode out of the place on a dirt road with Rebel in the back seat, still a little wet but so content, and all curled up for the ride home.
It's magical to me, mornings like that, and I have a deep connection to the water, to my good friend, to my dog, to this whole experience that seems to fill in gaps that are missing in my life. Gaps that you don't even know are there until you feel them fill in.