October 02, 2023
Even starting to join my Dad and his friends in the flooded corn fields and timber at a young age, I have still been prone to a few rookie mistakes. As a mentor to new hunters, there are things that I hadn’t thought of to explain that are second nature to me over the years, that caused some funny rookie mistakes. The best way you can avoid many of these is through the simple act of communication.
My wife’s younger brother was visiting from college over his Thanksgiving break several years ago. He had always been interested in my hunting and wanted to go. Several days in advance we had traded many texts and a few phone calls to make sure he had appropriate clothing and expectations. Crashing on our couch the night before the hunt, he was awake early and ready to go when it was time. We discussed college, his job prospects and what we might see in the hardwood bottoms we would be hunting in on the drive to the public land parking area.
Before we set out on our mile walk to the creek we were going to hunt, I let him know the importance of a steady pace of walking and to not get overly sweaty. It wasn’t going to get much above the mid-40s that day; cool enough that a little bit of sweat on the uninitiated would surely be bone chilling when waiting for ducks to fly.
The pre-dawn light came with whistles of wood duck wings and distant mallard quacks cutting through the stillness. Though my brother in-law was only joining as an observer, his senses were soaking it all in. We were not right on the ‘x’, there was enough bird traffic to let us know we were close. I left him with an orange hat just in case since we were on public land [always a good thing to have], while I took a quick walk around the river bend for a chance at a jump shot.
He was ecstatic as I returned with a couple of wood ducks in hand; a flock buzzed by in a spectacle that were drakes in their colorful attire. While talking I noticed he was shivering more than just from excitement. “Yeah, my feet are getting a little cold,” he told me. When I asked him how many pairs of socks he had on, he replied with, “Four.”
Now, chances are he wouldn’t have likely gotten frostbite, but it was a good lesson that day for both of us. For me, a reminder to be as descriptive and helpful as I can to the last detail, if needed, for someone who hasn’t been in the cold. For him, more socks, especially cotton socks, aren’t better. Feet need to be able to breathe and not have moisture on the skin in order to stay warm. A single layer of good quality wool socks can take you a long way.
Always Be Ready
Hunting the Eastern Shore of Maryland can take a hunter to a few different types of locations. On this particular day, I was in a smaller ‘booby blind’ on a point inside a cove with a few friends on a guided hunt. It was a wonderful December morning with puddle ducks and divers trading up and down the shoreline inside the cove and out to the open bay. As the morning warmed, our focus shifted to Canada geese as they left the neighboring ag fields for water.
We had just folded a few geese when one from the group needed to head home and responsibilities while another was going to make a lunch run. The guide ventured out in the jon boat to pick up the birds and then a quick trip up the shore to drop those two off, leaving me to call the shot should another flock of geese come in. As the jon boat engine faded away, a small flock of geese noticed our rig and I began calling sweetly to them. Between ‘honks’, I whispered back to the remaining two comrades in the blind to keep their faces down and get ready. Just as the flock set their landing gear to touch down directly in front of the blind I yelled “Take them!”. To my surprise, I stood up to shoot alone with fumbling noises behind me. With two of the six from the flock lying in the decoys and the rest of the geese flying away unscathed, I asked what had happened.
My blindmates had not reloaded after the previous flock of geese and sat motionless while I was calling in the next group. You certainly do not need to sit on a razor’s edge of attention in a blind, but being loaded and ready for when the time comes is important. Learning will come from years afield of a flocks’ behaviors on the wing or the sound for when the shot is called, you will be ready.
I can’t tell about the mistakes of others without sharing at least one of my own. I was fortunate to have permission to hunt an array of places while living in Oregon, including a property that bordered the Willamette River; a natural waterfowl highway for the valley. During one of our college Christmas breaks, I was joined by a friend at this special place with its sloughs, hardwood edges and naturally flooded ag fields.
The Willamette River is not tidal in this area but there were a few low spots in the two track road on the property that held water and was thus affected by a rising river. Growing up, I always used hip waders since that is what my Dad wore; and if it was ever any deeper, we would use the jon boat. That early morning we made our way after parking on the upper grounds near the farmhouse, down to the flooded ‘bottoms’ in hopes of finding emerald green drake mallards.
After making it through a few of the low spots along the two track road, we set our decoys along the slough’s border that had flooded into the cornfield. If I recall, we were lucky enough to convince a few ducks to come within range that morning. What stuck with me though was the memory of always needing to watch water levels.
Earlier in the week there had been enough rain and snow melt upstream for the Willamette River to slowly start rising; rising enough so that those low spots in the road were over the top of my hip waders when it came to walk out. Thankfully, my friend was wearing chest waders and he had no issue making the last low spot stretch to get an old canoe, bring it back across, and retrieve an embarrassed me. Needless to say I’ve kept a close eye on forecasts, tide tables, river gauges before venturing out and even markers while hunting ever since.
While I only experienced wet feet and mild embarrassment getting caught out on water and weather, conditions can turn into disastrous situations if not prepared. I have certainly experienced other mistakes either on my own part or from friends. When hunting public land extra precaution is needed to ensure the safety of yourself and others; arrive early, communicate in parking areas if possible, and do not set up too close to other groups. Knowing the seasons, specific county or zone regulations as well as correct waterfowl identification can keep your rookie mistakes from being an issue when checked by the warden as well.