OPENING DAY HAS come and gone, and I was not there. The second day has come and gone, and I was not there. Today, Wednesday, is the third day and I am not quite there yet.

Since I was a very young boy, opening days have been very important events in my life. They began with the annual opening day of trout fishing season. 

My dad was a fly fishing purist and ice-cold water or not, come opening day he disdained — nay, spat upon — the use of angle worms, going forth instead with his 8-foot fly rod and two boxes of flies: one for wet flies, one for dry.

I was not deemed old enough, big enough or reliable enough to tackle Plum Creek or Allequash Springs or any other place my dad tramped off to opening day until I was 9. I could spend my day riding my bike or exploring the woods around our house or any of the other myriad things boys in the 1950s did out in the country, and I would almost sorrowfully do those things until my dad returned with a creel full of trout that I could only drool over.

Quite possibly the worst opening day of my life was the last one I had to spend idling around at home while Dad and my older brother went to Allequash Springs. I was hoping, in the time before opening day arrived, that my brother would suddenly come down with a terrible case of the creeping “epizootus” or some other terrible disease so I could take his place with the rest of the stalwart trout fishermen who ventured forth that beautiful spring morning.

Instead, my brother, healthy as a horse, got to fish Allequash Springs that day and came home with the big trout of the day, a beautiful native brook trout that went 18 inches. He was all too eager to crow about his whopper, as well as the limit of dandiprats he had to go with it. All I could do was grit my teeth while telling myself that my first trout opener was only one year away.

My first opening day was so momentous that I must confess I remember almost nothing of it. We fished Plum Creek opening morning that day. I do remember it was below freezing in the morning and after every second cast, I would have to stop and clear the ice out of the tip of my fly rod. I won’t swear to it, but I believe I did catch two trout that day, both barely legal-sized, but nonetheless, trophies in my book. 

A few years passed and then, it was time for the most glorious opening day of my life. Not for trout, for ducks. My passion for ducks and duck hunting was as all-consuming then as it still is now and actually being able to paddle a canoe with my dad to a blind on Rice Lake opening day was the start of a lifetime of opening days with the ducks for me.

We killed just two ducks that first opener, a mallard and a teal. I know my dad killed the mallard. We were shooting at a flock of teal and though in mature hindsight I have to admit it’s most likely my dad knocked one down, he claimed he missed his three shots. I was only too happy to agree, claiming the teal, which fell from the vague vicinity of where I was shooting, as my very first duck. 

When you talk about opening days, there is no way you could possibly leave out the opening day of deer season. I barely slept the night before my first opener, instead running through multitudes of scenarios that would play out in the morning, all ending with me shooting a huge eight-pointer.

We hunted out of Uncle Neal’s cabin on Plum Creek that opening morning; we being Dad, Uncle John and myself. They went off to their stands while I reluctantly left my perch on a stool next to a pot-bellied wood stove which had a roaring fire going in it to ward off what was a subzero temperature that morning.

I had only to walk directly up the steep ridge above the cabin to sit on a large pine stump left from recent logging. Unlike the opener of today’s world, that deer season opener included no such thing as a camouflage blind, hand and toe warmers, grunt calls or any of the other paraphernalia today’s hunters seem to think they need.

Instead, I sat on that stump until 9 o’clock, before slipping back to the cabin to add wood to the fire. After thawing out enough to feel my fingers and toes again, I headed back up to my stump. I got there just in time. Minutes later, I heard a crashing coming up the hill toward me. The crashing, as it turned out, was made by a big eight-pointer running full tilt in flight from a passing hunter below who had spooked it.

This was my big chance; my chance for glory on my first opening morning of deer season ever. Swinging like a man shooting at a flying partridge, I let loose with two shots from a trusty old Savage .303, already putting together a glorious victory speech in my head. Instead, I had to watch in sorrow and dismay as the untouched buck rocketed away.

Well, since then, there have been other deer season opening days, some ending quickly with my tag on a buck, some with nothing more to show for them than a day of watching squirrels and songbirds scampering and flitting around my stand. One thing about them all was that they were each wonderful in their own way and, more importantly, I was there.

Which brings us to the opening day I referenced in the first paragraph of this missive. That opening day was supposed to be Monday, my opening day of turkey hunting in Illinois this spring. Unfortunately, given my second option on my permit application, I wound up having to decide whether to fulfill my town chairman duties for meetings Tuesday evening or skip out and let my fellow town officers cover for me.

It was a very close call, but disconsolately, I succumbed to duty. I was not there for the official Monday opener with my Illinois friends. Today, Wednesday, I am getting, mile by mile, closer to turkey heaven in the wild country of far northwestern Illinois. 

Tomorrow will be my turkey opener and late or not, I know it will be a grand one.