In a sense, opening day was just like every other opening day. We pile together all the miles and scouting we’ve done the past few weeks, make the best decision and go from there. We pull the trucks and trailers into the field about 5:30 a.m. No one says a word — our jobs are second nature now. We have chased geese as hard as anyone for the past 15-plus years. Some guys jump on blinds, the rest on decoys.
As I am grabbing some stuff out of my truck, I turn to the next truck and ask my brother-in-law, Travis, “Do you need any shells?” He quickly replies, “I didn’t bring my gun.” While most crews would have probably started making jokes, out of the truck bounds my nephew, Jax. A few months past 5-years-old and he’s on his first ever goose hunt. Travis has one goal today, and it has nothing to do with killing a goose. The tone of the morning changes for everyone. While most opening days we are worried about our final number, today we were all worried about one thing. Jax was going to remember this day for the rest of his life, and it was our job to make sure it was a fond memory he would carry with him forever.
Jax is stride for stride with everyone all morning. Toting decoys, helping brush blinds — he’s working just like the rest of us. Everyone pays close attention to Jax’s questions. We take pride in explaining the method to the madness that is goose hunting. Travis has Jax bring his Red Ryder to the blind. He is preaching gun safety to Jax just like our dads did to us and their dads before them.
As we nestle in the blind and Jax takes his place on Travis’ knee, we all realize our end goal has changed from here on out. When the first group clears the trees, we all glance down at Jax to see his eyes fixed on what drives us each September. Twenty geese, gliding in from 200 yards out right to the end of our gun barrels. With his entire head covered in earmuffs, we ring out shots that bring these birds to the ground. When we are done, Jax hops out of the blind with such excitement, we are all 5-years-old again. We are slapping hands and he is watching his four-legged buddy Huck, a 5-year-old black Lab, do his thing on the retrieves.
With each bird brought back, Jax watches and screeches in excitement. He takes his turn on the goose flag, the goose calls, sending the dog on retrieves and even making retrieves of his own. At one point, as I work Huck with Jax by my side, he says, “I think I hit four geese Uncle Josh.” “You sure did buddy, you sure did!” We sneak back to the blind and nestle in for the rest of the flocks. I am not sure whose smile was bigger when the morning was drawing to an end, but father and son were sharing in something we are all getting ready to experience.
Our measure of success is changing and by far for the better. It’s easy to replace any old hunt with the next hunt, or the hunt after that. A 40-bird hunt is likely to be replaced by another 40-bird hunt at some point or another. But, you cannot replace someone’s first experience. That happens once. We all have kids coming to the age of being able to experience what we all love. We have all grown closer because of our love for the outdoors. Nowadays, our kids are hunting or fishing for the first time almost every season. Their first experiences in this will help shape and mold our sons and daughters for years to come. I can tell you my drive to “be the best” has been replaced with a drive to “just be” for this next generation. I am sure over the next several years we will miss out on a few more birds or a few more fish, but I know it is going to be worth it as we make every effort to show our kids how to love and appreciate the pastimes our fathers handed downed to us. As we all watched Jax learn to love something that we all do, it made us swell with pride. I can’t imagine what Travis felt. I can speak for everyone when I say we are all ready for the next time one of us doesn’t bring a gun.