I LIKE WINTER. I like winter as much as the next guy. Snow for skiing and ice for fishing makes me happy. That said, I am as happy as the next guy to say goodbye to winter.

During the winter, with dogs that every day need to get out for a run/walk, I am stuck with walking just a handful of plowed side roads which have little vehicle traffic to worry about.

They all offer beautiful North Woods scenery, peace and quiet, and a sense of being safe from getting run over by a rusty Chevrolet.

However, they do have drawbacks, one being the large number of other people with dogs who tend to congregate along those roads. I like to let my dogs run without being restrained on leashes, as do many other people and there are times when in our restricted walking areas we have some “interesting” dog meets dog encounters.

A second drawback is that after three to four months of walking the same stretches of road, things tend to get a little boring. There comes a strong yearning to see woods, stream banks and lakeshores that are hidden away and unreachable without expending much more energy than an old geezer and his 12-year-old golden retriever can or want to expend.

With the melting of snow and ice, old familiar places open up for walks of anywhere from 1 to 4 miles. They may be old and familiar to me, but all these favorite haunts each spring become new, fresh and exciting to see.

I relish the early excursions into such places when I can first put boots in the woods once again. There might still be a few patches of snow and ice making footing a bit uncomfortable, but the footing is well worth dealing with to look out over territory I love.

Seeing these old familiar places which have been locked away for a few months is only a small part of the joy I feel when the countryside begins to open up each spring. With melting snow and receding ice, a new season begins. Spring yes, but it’s not merely spring which gets me excited. It’s spring duck season which makes this a most joyous time.

I am one of probably a very few who pursue ducks with as great a fervor in April as most hunters pursue them in autumn. Quite simply, I am a quack addict, a “head over heels, in love” addict with ducks. I might add with geese and swans as well.

Over the past week, the hunting was spectacular. Armed as usual with only a pair of binoculars, I have been tramping into small ponds, natural spring holes and shallow, muck-bottomed lakes that in summer provide food and excellent nesting habitat for waterfowl.

Saturday afternoon, I scanned Rice Lake, the lake where I cut my teeth as an autumn duck hunter at the age of 12. From the boat landing I could see a pair of Canada geese floating along the edge of a cattail bog, a small flock of hooded mergansers — poor eating fare, but beautiful drakes in breeding plumage — and a pair of swans drifting with a gusty wind.

My young and muscular yellow lab and I then plunged through a jungle of balsam, birch and alder for almost a half-mile to look over the south end of the lake. Every small branch which whipped my face and every balsam stub which grabbed at my sleeve were worth all the effort when we made our way partway out onto a semi-frozen bog from which we could see the lake.

Spotting us coming, a flock of 40 to 50 mallards burst skyward and headed north. A few stayed behind, along with four honkers. I knelt down and from a distance of about 75 yards breathed in deeply of the beauty that is a drake mallard in springtime, that is the wild, warbling honks of geese and that is the guttural squawks of mergansers that were part of the gang.

Happily, within minutes after leaving, the main flock of mallards returned. As I watched all those beautiful birds in front of me, I could not have imagined being in a better place. How sweet it is to see such magnificent birds swirl and swish as they lower flaps for a landing.

Later, we stopped at the culvert between Plum and West Plum Lake. We were not disappointed with the watchable wildlife we found there. Ducks that during the fall hunting season would have exploded in a getaway from where we surprised them at a range of about 15 yards, merely swam out 40 yards or so, stopping there to bob quietly on rolling wavelets while they watched man and dog watching them.

While glassing for ducks, I spotted a bald eagle about 150 yards away hopscotching through low brush at the edge of the lake. Our presence apparently wasn’t appreciated. I couldn’t see what it was, but as the eagle hopped into taller cover, I was quite sure I could see something clutched in its talons. Perhaps one of my ducks. How dare he?

A lone, huge beaver swam past us, heading for a lodge that seems to grow larger with every passing year.

That outing was just one of many the dogs and I have been able to get out on since the snow all but disappeared.

Now, both dogs heartily agree with me. It’s time to say so long winter, hello spring duck season.