Was the barely audible command whispered by Paul Stewart, our guide.
In unison all the shotgun barrels that were leaning against the top of the duck blind began to move slowly. The several sets of hands that only a second before delicately held acrylic and wooden duck calls now were firmly grasping foregrips and buttstocks.
At the same time the ears on the two gun dogs lying on the floor of the blind perked up as their heads jerked skyward.
Paul whispered one more time, drawing out each letter of each word, using them in the same way as would a referee's sequence of commands that ended with a starter pistol.
Muscles tensed, breathing quickened, and spirits danced as fingers tightened around triggers.
We'd ventured to Red Fish Bay on the Gulf of Mexico to take Bailey, my eighteen month old chocolate lab, on her first duck hunt since she'd finished the first phase of her training as a water and gun dog. We arrived at the Crab Man Marina at 4:30 AM to meet our guide, Paul Stewart and our outfitter, Captain Steve Johnson. I think 4:30 AM is one of God's little jokes He sometimes plays on humanity.
The excitement Bailey and Jack displayed from the moment we arrived at the marina was not only electrifying but contagious. Jack the old pro looked around, sniffed the salt air and started wagging his tail feverishly and sat down. Bailey on the other hand for some reason known only to her needed to sniff and in many cases taste everything that crossed her path and several things that hadn't. Once the E-collars were on however they both changed from behaving like Goldie Hawn of Laugh In fame to Joe Friday of Dragnet.
After all the introductions and glad handing we loaded our gear into an air boat for a twenty minute ride to our little manmade island in the middle of the bay. Jack being the pro that he is jumped in and waited to be hooked up, then it was Bailey's turn. She had little trouble getting in but she was a little apprehensive about being in an air boat.
Once we were all deposited in our little slice of heaven, gear stored, and dogs settled we were able to relax long enough to pour a cup of coffee and contemplate what the sun rise would hold. I'm pretty sure that in order for Starbucks to become a total success they need to offer duck blind coffee.
Between the normal conversations of types of shells, shotguns, waders, dog trainers, which is the best breed of dog, and lanyard decorations I had a chance to contemplate my dog Bailey. I was hoping the Mitchell Effect would kick in on this hunt and Bailey would discover why she's called a retriever. Glenda Mitchell, AKA Nurse Ratchet, is Bailey's trainer. I could only wait for the first duck downed to see if all that time and money was well spent.
The sun rise that morning was designed for the eye, just enough clouds to obscure a few ray of sunlight but not enough to cover the beauty. The oranges, reds, purples, and yellows were right off of Picasso's palette, bold and beautiful. God does good sunrises I think He wants your day to start by taking your breath away.
I was lost in the sun rise and thinking about Bailey's first open water swim when I heard.
As much by reflex as by conscious movement I reach and found my gun. My hands by instinct found the proper grip on the Benelli 12 gauge. Then I heard it again.
I glanced down at Bailey and Jack. She was in her boot scooting boogie mode, with every movement of any gun or arm or head Bailey would move just a little closer to the door and the water of Red Fish Bay. Jack was the steady old pro hunter ready to do his job.
My eyes found their way back to the horizon, there stretched across the sunrise flew a brace of fifty or so Red Head ducks. Each bird had slowed to the point that each one was on the verge of a stall, still none cupped to land. I sensed that if one didn't cup soon they all would just simple fall from the sky.
I heard Paul's voice much louder now shouting the words all duck hunters wait in some cases hours to hear.
A second later the reds, yellows, and oranges of the beautiful morning sky were replaced by flashes of brilliant white light and at the same time the calming silence of the all but still water was shattered by several deafening explosion as ducks began to fall from the sky.
When the ordeal stopped as fast as it began, I looked around to see if there were any more winged targets flying in harm's way.
Finding the sky to be void of everything but a few spent shotgun shell wads and some pin feathers of a few unlucky Red Heads I looked at Bailey and chose which bird to send her after first. I picked a duck that was almost in front of the blind opening bent down and pointed saying as I did.
"Dead bird" and then "Bailey"
Bailey was off in a flash of brown. Her momentum carried her 8 or 9 feet out into the bay and her feet were moving well before they got wet. As she moved toward the first duck her determination reminded me of the US Post Office motto.
"Neither rain, nor snow, or gloom of night"
Bailey found the bird and ever so gently picked the duck up as if she applied too much pressure it might explode. She turned and with that gleam in her eyes and the pride of Labrador retrievers everywhere started her trek back to me.
Jack was already back in the blind drying off by the time she'd found her duck and got back. It must be said I sent Bailey on much farther retrieves than I did Jack.
Once she'd retrieved five ducks with the same enthusiasm and desire as she had with the first, her first flight into Red Fish Bay was complete.
Her odyssey lasted for four or five more episodes but alas our limits reached and our ride appeared behind a small island it was time to venture back to dry land and breakfast consisting of pride, back slaps, handshakes, and a good congratulations cigar. Bailey didn't get the cigar.