WHILE MANY PEOPLE have just begun to enjoy all the fun stuff that summer brings with it, there are visionaries like me who are not content to live in the moment, but would rather plan for bigger and better things to come just three months hence.

Sure, there are those who would say speeding around lakes at high speeds while riding inflatable tubes or cruising on large pontoon boats are the preferred national pastime, but I have no truck with those people. 

Patio parties where people alternate sips of “summer-ades” with delicate bites of caviar might be magic for some people and nighttimes in the backyard watching fireflies flickering in the dark might be magical for still others, but they do nothing for me compared to the labors of love I will be working at for the next three months.

You can have your 80-degree days of sweltering summer, your tubes of creamy sunscreen, your backyard barbecues and everything else that summer stands for. 

I’ll take a good dog, retrieving dummies, several cases of clay pigeons and a few dozen boxes of 12-gauge light loads, a new pair of camouflage waders, the newest version of a spinning-wing duck decoy, a lake surrounded by wet bogs and thick stands of cattails, and a copy of North Dakota Outdoors over those mundane summer rituals any day.

All kidding aside, summer is a great time for outdoor fun and it is well up on the charts as my fourth-favorite season — just kidding, again — but really, fall means duck hunting and duck hunting means the most favorite thing in the world for me.

There are duck hunters and then, there are duck hunters. Duck hunter wannabes buy all the latest gizmos, clothing and gear, but they never look at it until the night before opening day. Fake duck hunters dress like the guy on the cover of a Cabela’s catalog cover, but they don’t have a true duck hunting bone in them.

Hunters who live 10 months of every year waiting for two autumn months of duck hunting to begin are the real duck hunters. I am one of them. Sure, I like to look at all the newest gizmos and gear, drool over pictures of ducks with cupped wings settling into a spread of well-placed decoys and dream of a $10,000 custom-built over/under 12-gauge double in my hands, but in reality, I am happy with my patched waders, faded Jones cap and 10-year-old hunting jacket with two buttons missing.

Duck hunting is my passion and though I have been happier than a hog in mud slop for 27 years while hunting in North Dakota, I never forget that I cut my duck hunting teeth on the small ponds, alder-lined creeks and bog-lined, rice-covered lakes of north Wisconsin.

I never forget the utter joy I felt the first afternoon I spent in a blind with my dad waiting and hoping for a chance at an early season Canada goose, and I never forget that even though I never came close to firing one shot that afternoon, I came home deliriously happy I had been there.

My fire for duck hunting was fueled by mornings that began well before daylight with tingling fingers from unsacking and setting a dozen decoys in near-freezing water, by the first sound of thickly feathered wings slashing through dead calm air and by the smell of freshly burned gunpowder wafting from the barrel of a 20-gauge pump.

My joy was compounded on those hunts when a duck or two fell at my shots, but even more so my joy was a result of sharing a blind with a wonderful Chesapeake retriever and the best duck hunter I have ever known, my dad.

Today, I hunt often by myself, whether here on my favorite north Wisconsin hidden haunts or the prairie ponds of North Dakota and I share my blind with a newly minted yellow lab, who at the tender age of 6 months last fall, proved himself to be a real duck dog.

This summer, we usually work hard several times a week, he and I, and he continues to learn even as the bond between us grows stronger. As a duck-shaped dummy flies from my hand as far as I can throw it, my newest duck hunting partner charges headlong into the water, doing what he was born and bred to do with a joy as deep and unbounded as my own.

We work in open water, in water sprouting a new growth of lily pads, reeds and thick weeds. We work on spongy bogs and in coverts of shoreline alder, hazel brush and balsam. Together we learn, he what it takes to find a downed duck in deep cover, while I learn to remember what it means to have a loyal, eager canine companion to share my love of ducks and duck hunting.

Hot, sunny and humid, cloudy with rain pelting down or whatever else the weather might bring, the two of us go about our business of training for autumn days to come.

When I think about it, these days of teaching my yellow-haired partner take me back to the days of my first duck hunting years when a yellow-haired dog and a veteran hunter took me under their wings as a fledgling hunter.

The bright-eyed joy I see in my young dog and watching the fervor with which he plunges headlong into this duck hunting game reminds me of myself some 57 years ago.

Fifty-seven years! How can it be that so much time has passed? How can it be that so many golden autumn days have passed into the realm of memories that last a lifetime? It seems like I was that 12-year-old first-time duck hunter just yesterday. With my new partner as anxious as I for another duck season this fall, I’m feeling more every day like I’ll be heading to the duck blinds with a fresh batch of that same youthful blood flowing in my veins come September. I’m pretty sure that feeling will never go away.