Here are seven things you should avoid while duck hunting.
When it comes to duck hunting and duck hunters, there are a lot of choices out there. Everyone who has ever loaded up with steel shot and climbed into a blind well before dawn has learned to do it their own way based upon those who raised them. From Mississippi, to Arkansas, to New York, there's a lot to being a successful duck hunter.
While there will be differences of opinion about what methods work best, like what decoy spread to use (a classic argument starter), nothing will get things going as much as the finer points as it pertains to the dos and don'ts of wingshooting.
Even a waterfowl hunting guide can let some things slip, but firearm safety and waterfowl identification aren't to be screwed up. Many duck and geese hunters across the nation have differing opinions about what constitutes bad form, and even poor sportsmanship when it comes to duck season.
Herein lies the lessons learned from a lifetime of waterfowl hunting based on my own experiences in the blind and in the field, taught to me by the men in my life that were the foundation of how I began to hunt, and why I follow the rules that I follow.
1. Shoot over or across a partner
This basic rule of firearm safety may seem to be obvious, but when the birds have their wings cupped as they're working over the decoys, it can be easy to get caught up.
Whether you are hunting from a pit blind or layout blinds, wild ducks in range have a way of swinging in and out of your shooting area that can make a hunter have tunnel vision and forget his boundaries. This leads to number two...
2. Failure to take turns
Even with just two men in the blind, we often discuss this possibility among my hunting friends to help avoid confusion. This proposition is more often the focus when you're group hunting with three or more people. When everyone jumps at every chance to shoot, how do you know who shot which bird?
We all want to know that it was us who dropped the duck or goose laying there, and it also helps to know whether or not we missed and why.
3. Sky bust
This doesn't always mean shooting straight up, mind you. When you're hunting large bodies of water, ducks have a way of looking closer to the decoys than they really are. That's often what causes overly long shots to be taken. There isn't usually much argument over this mistaken use of a federal Duck Stamp among the duck hunting fraternity, but we've all been there when someone has done it right next to us.
4. Try to challenge the weather
Weather conditions can play a big part of a duck hunter's safety. Whether it is a nasty wind or ice that has to be crossed to be hunted, waterfowl hunters need to recognize the danger to them and identify when it is unsafe to be on the water.
5. Overfill the blind
While this picture may or may not have been a simple photo op, the point remains. Even in field hunting we consistently see videos of eight or more people hunting and even shooting at the same time.
The obvious danger is too many folks shooting at once, which is just plain wrong and takes us back to reason number two: don't you want to know that you actually hit something, or is it enough for you to take somebody else's kill home?
6. Flock shoot
With today's ammunition, shot loads are as powerful as they have ever been, but the fact remains that the punt guns of yore were banned for a reason. You're not going to strike down an entire flock of birds in one pass, and why would you want to? This means that when too many men (or women) shoot too many shots at one big flock, there will be birds that get wounded--mortally or not--and will fly away hurt to probably die a not-so-quick death.
You're not going to harvest those birds and you know it. This is exactly why I was taught not to overfill the blind and the reason why we take turns shooting.
7. Shoot birds on the water
Timber hunting is the best, but first shot on the water?? Say it ain't so!
They call it wing shooting for a reason.
This one may create the biggest argument of all, but I was taught never to shoot at a sitting bird unless it was a crip, already wounded. There are those out there that consider a swimming bird fair game and so be it, but they coined the phrase "sitting duck" for a reason. Many in the Midwest shoot at grouse that are walking or sitting in trees because that's how they're hunted in that region, but a duck or goose waddling through a cut corn field? Most would throw the shell at them instead.
From the Atlantic Flyway to the Pacific, whether you are using a duck call or a goose call, it always matters how you carry yourself in the blind or in the boat. Waterfowl habitat and possession limit aside, everyone who hunts these birds in North America has their own methods, but hunting is more important than the sum of its parts.
Being respectful in the woods or on the water has its own rewards, but following your heart is the most crucial part of it all.