BOISE, Idaho -- Chukar hunters say that the first time you hunt the bird it's for sport, and every other time it's for revenge.
After opening day of duck season, I wanted to apply that saying to teal, but there was a problem.
How do you wreak vengeance on something you can't hit? Teal are a combination of speed demons and tricksters. I don't think they decoy as much as they strafe decoys on a thrill ride with harmless sound effects provided by my shotgun.
It wasn't supposed to be that way, at least not on opening day.
I typically pass on teal during the opener. There usually are plenty of other birds available. If I go crazy on teal I fill my bag limit early and then watch helplessly as mallards, wigeons and gadwalls circle while I pick up decoys.
Usually I am content to watch teal display their antics purely for entertainment value. They're cute, speedy and fun to watch.
Last year, we passed on teal and ended up a couple birds short of a limit. Oh, well, that's hunting. Had we hit all the other ducks we shot at, we easily could have had our limits.
This year I wanted Dusty, my young Lab, to get as many retrieves as possible, so I decided teal were in play.
Shooting hours arrived in the gray light of pre-dawn. A rolling thunder of gunfire across the reservoir announced duck season had begun.
It's always an exciting moment. On cue the sky came alive with flocks of ducks, mostly teal.
They flew about 10 feet off the water, juking like maple leaves attached to bottle rockets. In the dim light they looked more like shadows than ducks.
When the ghostly birds came into range, I rose and started my swing. I squeezed off my first round of the season.
I quickly touched off a follow-up shot. The result was the same.
I ran through my litany of excuses -- morning jitters, poor light, I stopped my swing.
Small flocks peppered the sky. Some far and passing, others headed my way.
There was the classic opening day dilemma: Shoot at a duck circling my decoys or let it land and hope it pulls in a flock.
But there was shooting all around me, and ducks don't like gunfire, even if it's hundreds of yards away.
A brace of teal flew toward my decoys, flaring right as it got in range. I rose and shot twice: 0-for-4.
Dusty gave me a quizzical look. Irony alert: I was worried how she would perform in the flurry of excitement on opening morning, and it looked like she should have been worried about me.
Another flight of teal buzzed through the decoys. Three shots up, no birds down.
If this were baseball, I not only would have struck out, I probably would have been benched.
I remembered why I waited for mallards. They're like shooting a hot air balloon compared to those turbo jets.
The sky was nearly void of the usual flights of larger ducks, but the teal kept buzzing.
Several landed near my decoys while I was looking in another direction and flew away before I could shoot.
Another landed in the water just outside of gun range and started to swim toward my decoys. I froze in the blind and waited. When it swam into range, I planned to rise, flush and shoot.
I rose, and the bird did nothing. I shouted "hey" to spook it, but the bird turned 180 degrees and swam as casually as a morning stroll until it was well out of gun range.
It turned into a grudge match. I was being out maneuvered and outsmarted. I felt like Wile E. Coyote, but a case short of ACME dynamite.
More teal arrived and more spent shot shells rained down but no teal followed.
Finally, one flew toward the corner of the decoys and hooked directly at me. No need to lead, just put the bead on the bird and pull the trigger.
Dusty swam out and grabbed the duck. She practically danced as she returned to the blind with the bird in her mouth.
She had patiently waited all morning, and I finally held up my end of deal.
Despite my deplorable shooting, I was thrilled. Never had such a small bird felt like such a big prize.