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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

The South Zone duck season begins Thanksgiving morning.

Many of my friends will dutifully set their alarms for 3 a.m., climb out of bed, pull on layers of camouflaged clothing, hop in their pickup trucks in order to be ready for that opening salvo 30 minutes before sunrise.

Duck hunters will break ice to wade into shallow forest ponds. They’ll push tiny, overloaded johnboats across flooded fields to get to their pit or blind. They’ll put their boat onto a lake at midnight, find their hunting spot in the dark and sleep in the cold until dawn.

Not me. Not any more.

I’ll be snug in my bed, pulling the covers up to my chin.

Duck hunters are the toughest people I know. That includes football and hockey players.

There is no such thing as a lukewarm waterfowler. You either love it … or, you pull the covers up to your chin on opening day.

Truth be known, I really do enjoy duck hunting. There is something unique about being afield as the world comes alive.

If you’re hunting from a boat, there are those moments before shooting hours when you can hear the wind rustling through the wings of ducks strafing your boat. There is that itchy anticipation of seeing birds sit down in the decoy spread, hoping they’ll stay there until legal shooting hours.

And, if you’re in a ground blind, hearing mallards quacking and squawking in nearby fields ratchets the anticipation levels to an almost unbearable pitch.

There is the unadulterated joy of watching quality callers work the ducks, sitting in the blind, watching the birds circle time and again, wondering if they’ll ever decide to sit down.

Finally, the best part of the entire experience is watching the dogs. The dogs are finely attuned to every move in the boat or the pit. If a hunter goes for his call, the dog scans the sky looking for the ducks. If the hunter grabs a gun, the dog’s legs quiver in anticipation of a retrieve.

If ducks go down, the dog bursts from the blind or boat, thrilled to the bone that he/she is fulfilling the instinctive urge bred into him/her for generations. There is nothing more contented than a retriever carrying a duck back to the blind.

But, if you’ve got thin skin, don’t shoot and miss, and then look at the dog. Those looks of derision are unequaled anywhere in nature.

There’s not much to dislike about duck hunting … except the early hours and cold. That combination makes waterfowling a young person’s game.

I’ve only managed a couple hunts in the past 2-3 years. Covering basketball and duck hunting is a tough daily double — getting home at 11 p.m. and hitting the road at 3 a.m. is tough. Hopefully, there is a hunt or two in my immediate future.

If not, I know this is a magical time of year from many of my friends and I can live vicariously through their stories.

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LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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