I can still remember the smell of my father's shop. It was that of sawdust, smoke and the acrid scent of a freshly fired shotgun.
Here, perched atop a stepstool, I'd watch as he methodically packed his own shotgun shells in preparation for the upcoming upland bird and waterfowl seasons. I remember the levers, the mechanical movements of various loading presses through which each shell would pass. Each would emerge as a buttoned-up, brightly battered cylinder in varying shades of red, yellow and green.
Now, as the daylight dwindles and fall colors emerge, these memories flood back and I can nearly feel the heft of his rifle in my 8-year-old hands and the rough of his canvas bird vest. I can nearly hear his wooden duck calls clanking like tiny wind chimes around his neck.
On Thursday, our local wetlands will be flooded with hunters donning similar attire. Residents may see them, as night fades to day, with decoys hoisted over their shoulders, gun in hand, headed out to their favorite hunting spots to try their luck on the state's opening day of the 2010 waterfowl season.
Ryan Scott, area management biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, may be out among them. He's hunted the area for years.
"The Mendenhall Wetlands are an outstanding stopover for birds," he said. "We're privileged to have an area (like this) in our backyard."
Juneau boasts a variety of species that perk the interest of local hunters, and Scott said good numbers of birds are already gathering. These include varieties such as the green-winged teal, northern pintail, Canadian goose, mallards, shovelers and widgeons, to name a few.
Many locals, according to Scott, find the easiest access to decent hunting not far off the beaten path.
"The Dike Trail is a hot spot for hunters," he said. "So is the Sunny Point area, the Lemon Creek lookout, the area around Salmon Creek. And, on the Douglas side, Fish Creek and Nine Mile Creek are real popular areas."
All hunters on the refuge must possess a hunting license, a permit and all must complete the required hunter education course, according to local regulations. Hunters must also carry documentation of these items with them in the field.
These requirements came into play a few years ago, and for the most part hunters have accepted the change. Scott said going through the education course and obtaining a permit is a small price to pay to be able to hunt on the refuge, and the course has become a bit of a family affair.
"We see, over and over again, families going through hunter education together," he said. "(During the course) we try to give information about the refuge. We want to ensure that we have waterfowl hunting for future generations."
This year's season begins next week and runs until Dec. 31. Bag limits for Game Management Unit 1, which includes the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, range depending on species.
For a detailed explanation of the rules and regulations associated with hunting in the Juneau area, go online to http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/.
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