For the last several years, my hunting agenda has been an easy one to follow, going something like this:
October and November are for the hunting of whitetail bucks - especially those monsters carrying massive sets of headgear.
December and January are reserved for ducks and geese, and in some years, wild bobwhite quail, on the wing.
But a couple of weeks ago, something happened — aside from my turning 40, I might add — that could reshuffle the deck when it comes to making future autumn hunting plans.
What was that happening? Simple, I rediscovered the uncomplicated joys of duck hunting and of passing such joys along.
It all started when Erik Burns and Jason Crook, two Lone Star State duck hunters who operate "Rugged Duck Outfitters" north of Dallas gave me a call and simply said, "Do you want to go duck hunting this weekend?"
Actually, I wanted to go deer hunting that early November weekend, but with warm temperatures at near record levels conspiring to keep daytime deer movement to a bare minimum, I decided to give their request a second thought.
When I did, I remembered that this was the year that I had told my 10-year old daughter Katie that she would move from watching the hunt unfold to actually participating in it, with her younger brothers Zach and Will impatiently waiting in the wings.
So, it is not all that surprising that a couple of Saturday mornings ago found Katie and yours truly awaiting dawn — and swatting the occasional mosquito — as we sat in a makeshift duck blind next to Burns, Crook, and Dawn, an eager black Labrador retriever.
To be truthful, I didn't expect much since it felt more like a sweaty September teal hunt than a bona fide November duck outing thanks to the warm, balmy weather that stretched all the way to the Canadian border.
Add in the fact that the small local lake that the decoys were bobbing on consisted of more mud than water thanks to the ongoing severe drought conditions near my home, and well, my mood was somber at best, especially a few hours removed from turning 40.
And then, shortly after legal shooting light had arrived, it happened.
The whisper of wings overhead.
A soft hail call from Burns' "Little Joel" duck call, one that I tried to follow with some soft feed chuckles of my own.
Cupped wings as a gadwall began spilling air from under its primaries in a steep descent into the decoys.
Watching my daughter tense, mount her 20-gauge single shot shotgun, and then unleash a load of Winchester steel number fours.
Rocked by the pattern of my daughter's shot, the duck was felled thanks to a second shot quickly administered by Burns who was backing Katie up.
In a flash, Dawn was out in the shallow, muddy water, quickly fetching the fallen duck and bringing it to hand.
And suddenly it all made perfect sense.
Warm weather or not, a hunter must play the hand that he or she is given.
And in the humble opinion of this writer, no hand is any greater than that of introducing one's children to the glories of enjoying Creation's outdoor world.
On a November outing many years ago, my dad did the same for me, taking me on a post-Thanksgiving Day rabbit hunt that has played an influential role in who and what I am today.
That fall day spent chasing cottontails introduced me to the warm glow that a cold day spent outdoors can bring.
It also awakened me to the enjoyment of listening to colorful autumn leaves rattling in the freshening north wind; to the smells of gunpowder from a spent shotgun shell; and to the tasteful aromas emitting from the kitchen thanks to game that is being cooked for the table.
To be truthful, that chilly November day lit a pilot light within me that has yet to go out, one that still blazes up to the thrill of seeing ducks on the wing, deer erupting from cover, or a rabbit bounding through an overgrown thicket.
Today, more than 20 years removed from that fateful date, I've never completely recovered from that experience, nor do I want to.
In fact, today, so compelling was that event that I remember the passage of years not so much from the appearance of my November birthday on the calendar but more so from the passage of opening days spent afield chasing game and enjoying a campfire in the midst of good company.
While only time will tell, I'm hopeful that a similar November outing spent together earlier this month will prove to be such a memorable day 20 or 30 years down the road for my daughter Katie.
I'm hopeful that she'll remember the rustling of the wind, the beauty of autumn leaves, the sweet taste of a ripe persimmon, the smell of gunpowder, the wince that the thump of a shotgun brings, and the laugh that comes after a splashy retrieve of a black Lab named Dawn.
I'm also hopeful that she'll whisper a silent prayer of thanks for a dad who learned to play the hand that he was given: the hand of raising his kids to love God, to help others, and to cherish this wonderful outdoors world.
That's what I'm hopeful Katie will remember.
I know as her dad, I sure will.