For you, it might be a johnboat cruise through the timber, or cutting pine boughs to gussy up your saltmarsh stake blind. Your first outing of the upcoming duck season might involve a late-summer nights ATV recon of a distant slough to see how the water is holding up in September heat. But for me, something else entirely heralds the coming duck season: A gluey, gummy spiderweb slathered across my sweaty face.

Maybe you know the feeling: Youre busting through the late-summer woods to scout a rumor of a new duck spot when suddenly your face gets snared ear to ear in a spiderweb the size of a manhole cover. Its like waking up in a vat full of snakes. Your stomach flips with the heebie-jeebies and you slap and smear at that proteinaceous veil of spider snot plastering your entire head. Ughwhat a nasty feeling. You swat and smear and smack at all the imagined wolf spiders tunneling into your ears and headed for the back of your shirt. You spit and spin and scrub your bare arms clean of all those leftover bits of spidery nastiness.

Youve been there.

A head-first swan dive into a large spiderweb is a toe-curling, cringe-inducing sensory experience, but its one solid way I know that the countdown to duck season is in the short rows. It means Im getting out there when the getting is hot, humid, and miserable, which means Im likely duck scouting when few others are willing to brave the biting flies.

Make no mistake: I love the opening morning jitters and those heart-pounding moments when the ducks sift into the decoys long before daylight. But all that comes after Ive scouted and sneaked and scoped out those hidden holes where the ducks want to be. After Ive walked 15 miles of the deep woods, looking for ducks a solid two months before the ducks even show. And plowing spiderwebs with my face.

Im not saying Id recommend the experience for a first date. But I look forward to it every year. A face full of ick and the heady aroma of high-test DEET alert me to a certain kind of wonderfulness, arachnophobia be damned: Its how I know duck season is right around the corner.