February 07, 2022
So last year the legendary Alex Langbell wrote an article in this very publication detailing how to call the shots in the duck blind (Wildfowl October 2020). It was helpful. It was informative. It was, alas, incomplete.
Now, don’t blame Langbell for this. We all know the tight-fisted editors at this magazine only give their writers so many words to work with (Oliver Twist voice: “Please, Mr. Knowles. I’d like to buy an adverb?”). And while Langbell’s article gave you everything you need to call shots the RIGHT way, it didn’t tell you much about how to do it the WRONG way.
That’s where this piece comes in. Here’s how NOT to call the shot, as illustrated by five shot-callers you probably already know.
This is the guy who has a strange, almost uncomfortable fascination with letting the birds “finish.” You’ve hunted with this fellow, I’m sure. The geese could be swinging the pit low enough to whack with the flag, but if their feet ain’t down and their toes ain’t tickling the mud in the kill hole, the Purist ain’t flipping the cover. “One more pass….just one more pass…let ‘em finish,” he’ll whisper down the line. Hands trembling. Eyes shining. Face flushed. Sweat beading on his forehead despite the sub-zero temps. You scoot a little further down the bench. “Here we go, baby. Here we go….no, not yet. Just one more pass….let ‘em finish….” And then they’re gone.
The Elder Statesman
In some groups, the task of calling the shot simply falls to the oldest guy in the blind. In most cases, this is fitting: a sign of respect and deference to a seasoned fowler. In other cases…
“Grandpa, two birds on the left. Dropping fast.” No movement from the pit boss. “Grandpa!” you whisper, louder this time. “Two ducks!” Still no movement. That’s when you notice the rhythmic rise and fall of Grandpa’s chest under his parka, and the line of drool seeping from the corner of his mouth.
“GRANDPA!” You give his shoulder a firm but gentle shake, “THERE ARE TWO WIGEON NEARLY ON THE WATER. SHOULD WE SHOOT THEM?” His eyes flutter open and he smacks his lips, clearing his throat. “No, I ate before I got in the boat. You’re welcome to some of mine if you want though.” He cracks his neck then settles back into the corner with a sigh and a yawn and a gentle smile. “Too bad the ducks aren’t flying yet. Keep your game eyes on.”
This guy is the antithesis of the Purist. Rather than waiting till the ducks are building a nest in your decoys, the Marksman likes to call the shots at the first moment the flock breaks the invisible barrier he calls “shoot ing range.” For most hunters, this would be somewhere around the 35–40-yard mark. Or less.
Not for the Marksman. By virtue of some combination of premium ammunition, a sniper-grade extended choke tube, and an unnatural ability to judge and sustain a 41-foot-lead on high crossing teal, the Marksman can routinely drop ducks at obscene distances. While the rest of the guys in the blind are reloading their guns and muttering suggestions about “letting ‘em get a little closer next time,” the Marksman simply nods to the indisputable evidence of the birds on his strap and says with a wink: “Just gotta stay in front of them, fellas!”
Don't Miss! (Dropping ducks at long distances)
Calling the shot comes with a lot of pressure. And inevitably, you’re going to make some mistakes. Now most hunters can shrug off their blunders with a bit of self-deprecating humor and a promise to buy the breakfast if they blow it again. But not the Apologizer. For this guy, calling the shot a hair too early or a second too late is a cardinal sin—one for which no penance can suffice.
“Gee guys, I’m sorry,” he’ll say as the birds recede into the distance. “I really blew that one.” No worries, you all assure him. Happens to the best of us. “No, I mean, that was AWFUL. I’m such an IDIOT!” He pounds his fist on the ammo shelf then sinks his head into his hands. It’s all good, you tell him again. More birds will come. “WHY?” He wails. “WHY DO YOU LOVE ME? WHY ARE YOU STILL MY FRIENDS?” You try to inform him that another group of mallards is circling the spread, but he can’t hear you over his shuddering sobs. He looks up just in time to see the flock flare. “Gee guys, I really blew that one….”
For most of us, a simple “take ‘em” will suffice when it’s time to call the shot. But not for the Wordsmith. For this guy, a moment of such magnitude deserves a verbal flourish of commensurate weight.
“Make it rain!” he’ll announce when it’s time to get the first flock. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
“Fire at will!” he’ll cry at the second, raising his fist like a cavalry officer brandishing his saber. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!”
“RELEASE THE TORPEDOES!” A moment of hesitation, then you realize what he meant. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
“FRIENDS! ROMANS! COUNTRYMEN! NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT, MADE GLORIOUS BY THIS SUMMER SUN OF YORK….” By the time the Wordsmith has finished his attempt at quoting Richard III, the birds have landed, sipped some water, loafed in the sun, and flown back to fields for the afternoon feed. No shots fired.
Now of course, there is ONE tried and true key to becoming the perfect shot-caller; one method that will keep everyone in the blind happy and involved and result in limits of fowl on every strap. The key, passed down from my great-grandfather, is to…
[EDITOR’S NOTE: article clipped; maximum word limit reached.]