ST. MARYS - At first glance, Dave Hackathorn's job sounds pretty tough: Get up at 4 a.m., lug around hundreds of pounds of equipment in often-foul weather, and work until after dark.
So why does he do it?
Well, mainly because it takes him duck or goose hunting more than 60 times a year. Hackathorn, 45, of St. Marys, is a hunting guide who specializes in waterfowl. In less than 10 years, he has parlayed a beloved hobby into a thriving part-time enterprise.
"Just about every day West Virginia's waterfowl seasons are open, I'm taking clients hunting," said Hackathorn. "I take a couple of days off around Christmas, but that's about it. It wears me down physically, but I love it."
A single pull of a shotgun's trigger ignited that love.
"I've been crazy about waterfowl hunting since I was 14, when I killed my first goose," he said.
Like many dyed-in-the-camouflage waterfowl enthusiasts, Hackathorn learned that his favorite pastime carried a pretty hefty price tag.
The bare essentials - a shotgun, some shells and a hunting license - constitute the tiny tip of an enormous financial iceberg. Calls, decoys, dogs, blinds, boats, waders and camouflage clothing require thousands of dollars more.
In 2004, Hackathorn, who runs a logging business and is a partner in an airport maintenance business, had sunk tens of thousands into his gear collection and found he wanted more.
"I figured that if I started guiding, maybe I could make enough money to offset some of my equipment costs," he said.
It took a while for Hackathorn to build a reputation and a steady client base, but since then his Black Dog Outfitters guide business has enjoyed consistent success.
"Business has been steady for about five years now," he said. "Almost every day of the season, I have at least four clients a day going hunting with me."
West Virginia is far from a waterfowl hunter's paradise. Because it's located west of the Atlantic migration route and east of the one that follows the Mississippi River, the state doesn't attract large numbers of ducks and geese.