The first shot feels a little off. This early in the season the gunstock doesnt find the pocket of your shooting shoulder quite as easily as it will in the mornings to come. Its hard to keep your head down with the first dawn rising and the first ducks swirling in front of you for the first time in months. Youre not in short sleeves like youve been at the skeet range. Youre bound up in hunting layers and chest wader straps, your feet mired in mud. It all feels a bit unnatural. But that will change. Youll get your groove back.

Soon enough, all the firsts will be behind you. First hunt of the season, first shot of the season, first miss of the season, first duck on the water. All those weeks looking forward to all of this, and here we are.

This morning is all weve thought about for days. It stole away our sleep last night. It will haunt our stories tomorrow. Its all coming back to you nowthe redolent funk of mud and swamp and wet gear and crushed leaves. The rhythmic hollow thump of a dogs tail on the blind floor. Even the mosquitoes buzzing in your ear.

Then the sky glows and the trees emerge from the far side of the slough and there are wings overhead. Shooting time, somebody says, hushed and hurried.

And the first birds appear, and the first duck sails down, and the gun comes up, and suddenly, its all on.