First Light

By Doug Patteson

You are not accustomed to going without your sight, on which you are so dependent. Yet before first light, you must do just that. Flashlights are not allowed, for fear of disturbing the game and the certain loss of your slowly adjusting night vision.

Once you have the decoys out, or the scent trail down on the deer trail, you return to your post to begin the wait. Your pulse, elevated from your exertions, slowly returns to normal. You strain to use other senses less familiar, less relied upon. Tune your ears. At first, silence. Then you realize that is deceptive. There is a riot of sound beginning, sounds for which you are not yet conditioned to listen. 

Was that a footstep? Or a windblown twig and leaves hitting the ground?  The tinkling of a gently winding stream. The twittering of wrens and bushtits. The raucous chorus of blue jays and crows. The chittering of a chipmunk scampering along a tumbledown stone wall, a squirrel shrieking its intruder alert.

We hunters leave the trappings of civilization behind, the warmth of the wood stove and the taste of the morning coffee, to rejoin a world with which we used to be familiar.

An hour and a half before sunrise – you are amazed at how dark it still is.  No way is it close to shooting light.  So you check your watch and wait. Whistling wings overhead, yet unseen. A mallard? Widgeon? That darting black shape, a bat? A cobweb of young, newly bare beech silhouetted against the sky. Shapes slowly come into focus, now in outline, soon in detail.  

There are new smells too - newly fallen leaves, too new to have begun to decompose, freshly dropped acorns, the last remaining apples.

As the earth shudders free of darkness, it always seems we lose a couple of degrees suddenly.  So you pull the collar tighter and zip up the jacket.  And continue your vigil.

You are watching the world wake up.  

Still too dark, even though time is getting close.  A doe wanders along the edge of the field, feeding slowly.  A pair of teal land on the edge of the spread and paddle slowly forward, softly chuckling to their unresponsive cousins.  “Confidence decoys,” you think to yourself. You decide to wait till you hear other shots in the distance – your watch has never been that reliable.  

Still too dark, you double-check shells and safeties, shooting glasses and obstructions.  Then suddenly, it’s legal shooting time and, amazingly, everything is sharp and clear, no longer shrouded in gray and haze. And you wait no more.

About the Author
Doug is a lifelong outdoorsman who spends far too much time behind a desk for his liking. A former CIA officer and international businessman, he manages to combine some of his outdoor pursuits with his professional career. He writes on a wide range of topics, some more interesting than others, for print and online publications, as well as film and tv.