I stared at the 3 a.m. flashing on my bed-side clock as I set the alarm. The hour stressed me so bad I worried it would keep me awake. To make matters worse, Im a night person, so dozing before about 10 p.m. is out of the question.
But my marching orders were clear. Be at the boat ramp on the Snake River at 5 a.m., and it takes about an hour and a half to get there.
My friend Joe Maloney of Mountain Home invited me to go duck hunting, and I wasnt going to let a short nights sleep stop me from going. Aside from being a great guy, he knows the Snake well, and I figured he would get us into some birds.
But 3 a.m.? Man, that gave me second thoughts. Was it worth it?
I knew the answer. Even if I never fired a shot, which admittedly would annoy me greatly, it would still be worth the effort.
The alarm clock went off, and I hit the snooze bar a couple times before dragging myself out of bed.
Dusty was sleeping next to my bed. She rose, put her paws in front of her and did a full-body stretch. That was all she needed to be ready. I wish I could say the same.
I went downstairs and poured me some coffee, then some cereal into a bowl and dog food into her bowl. We both wolfed down our food.
I went through my notoriously unreliable mental checklist and decided I had everything (I was wrong, forgot cold drinks in the fridge.)
I drove by the mall at about 3:45 a.m., and the parking lot was packed. It donned on me that Black Friday had just started.
What a bunch of weirdos, I thought.
It was an honest gut reaction, but then I realized they were going hunting for deals in a heated mall with espresso and Cinnabon, while I would be wading in a frigid river to set out decoys, then hiding in a frosty blind in hopes of duping ducks.
Whos the real weirdo?
I met Jake Halderman of Star in East Boise, and we drove to the Snake. We arrived on time and helped Maloney launch his jetboat.
The ride upstream was both bone chilling and exhilarating. Whatever youre wearing, its not enough to block that Arctic blast as you fly upstream.
A large flock of goldeneyes spooked off the water. They looked like ghost birds lifting off into the starry sky.
It was exciting to see Maloney navigate upstream in total darkness. Hes been doing it a long time, and he knows the river well.
He found the blind after getting sidetracked due to steam rising off the water obscuring his view of shore. That was impressive: Theyre designed to be hidden in broad daylight, and he found it in the dark and behind a wall of steam.
We unpacked the decoys and started setting them out. Anytime you think youre tough as a duckhunter, your dog shows you whos really tough. Dusty and Bailey waded in the frigid water like it was a summer day at the beach.
After the decoys were set, it was still an hour and 15 minutes until shooting light.
For some people, this is a torturous wait, but strangely, its one of my favorite parts of a duck hunt.
Stars glistened in the clear, cold sky. Wisps of steam danced on the water. The lights of homes and ranches shone in the distance.
We talked about previous hunting trips, fishing trips, and life in general. It was a good time to catch up.
The dogs milled about. They were bristling with energy and enthusiasm.
The stars gradually faded and the sky went from India ink to indigo. Fluttering shadowy silhouettes against the sky circled the blind in the pre-dawn darkness. We could hear ducks whistling wings overheard, and the whirring murmer of drake mallards blended with the raucous quacking of hens.
Anticipation built as the clock ticked down toward legal shooting light. Layers of pastel blue, pink and orange blossomed on the horizon and gradually spread across the sky.
My watch read 7:19 a.m., the time for legal shooting. I had already been up for about four hours, and wed been on the river about half that time.
Our Labrador retrievers were poised and ready to plunge into the river at the sound of gun blasts. They were in their element and following in the wake of a long lineage of waterfowl dogs.
Ducks banked against the horizon and circled toward our decoys. Maloney played a welcoming melody on his duck call.
Our hunt had finally begun.
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors