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Coming Full Circle

A Letter From WILDFOWL's Editor-in-Chief, Skip Knowles

Coming Full Circle
Editor-in-Chief Skip Knowles waiting for the next flock of snows from his layout blind.

Sometimes, it can be hard to see how everything old is new again. Literally tough to see.

My buddy gestured toward the barbed wire fenceline that had windblown chaff and dead weeds backed up against it at the edge of the grain field.

“What do you see when you look at that?” he asked rhetorically, shouting over the wind. “Nothing, that’s what! Those layouts are invisible. Put a bunch of panel blinds up there, and what are the geese gonna see? A buncha hunters!”

We had finished brushing up our layout blinds into the spot and were admiring our work. He was right. Weak, swirling winds be damned, we fooled 'em. The birds circled a lot but rarely picked us out.

At first I’d been perplexed. Before that Canada trip, he'd said we were going to hunt from panel blinds. Easy to set up, comfy, upright and cameraman-friendly, they are standard issue on the Alberta prairies where birds are easy to fool. But here we were, buried in layouts. The prone hides are a pain. Tough to dig in, tough to shoot over your off-side shoulder.

But we were hunting adult snows, some of the famously fickle, long-lived, and wisest of waterfowl. These flying Yodas use the Force to sense a trap, and it was the ultra-late spring season, nearly summer, so they’d had their asses shot off from Sask clear to Arkansas and all the way back again. 

Jordan had rediscovered how lethal layouts can be when used differently than the traditional method of burying them dead-center on an X. Layouts have seen a resurrection in many spots, and we hunted out of them a lot this year—they are just not being used in the middle of the field (which geese learned to avoid because of the advent of layouts) but rather to vanish into any available cover.  

Crusty old Yoda-snow geese aside, most waterfowl species don’t live that long, so when old tactics fall from favor as birds wise up, time passes and soon those techniques have not been seen by the birds in a while. Then old-school is new all over and starts working again. 

Some tactics never leave, like the jerk cord, because they never quit working. Late season, you’ll do better with a jerk cord than your buddy’s calling most of the time. But sometimes fate and fortune favors the flavor that has fallen out of fashion...with fervor!

I don't like to be one of those lame editors that always writes only about “what’s in this issue,” but this subject got me too fired up. From the resurrection of layouts to our story last issue on The Great Silhouette Revival, tactics resurface in waterfowling in a magical way—if you play the game long enough. 

And now, it’s those loud, stumpy-looking, mallard duck calls. Many younger hunters think cutdowns are a newish phenomenon, a next-level approach and evolution of the sport. But the idea of “barking down ducks” with gruff, modified duck calls started in the ‘70s, forged in the competitive fires of the Arkansas timber to “make ducks do things they don’t want to do.” Those duck-slaying sounds were surpassed by more stage-calling style over the last 30 years, according to George Lynch, the legendary call builder, in his feature this issue. If you don’t run one, it’s a good chance to read up and find out if a cutdown is right for you.

Things can come full circle with species you chase, too. On a coastal hunt with WF writer Scott Haugen in Oregon in 2022, massive flocks of whistling wigeon barely circled before committing rice-field suicide. A short and unforgettable outing, my favorite duck hunt of that year. On that hunt, for just a moment, I almost didn’t care if I saw another greenhead. Almost.

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It was a blast from my past. I chased wigeon a lot in Washington as a fledgling ‘fowler before I became a Potholes/Columbia Basin greenhead snob. We still plug away at “frosties” in Colorado to fill out limits, but that Oregon hunt was a resurrection for me. It inspired Scott’s excellent story this issue (Part I of Vision For Wigeon). 

In it, Scott introduces you to a guy with a wigeon guide service and a dog named Wigeon. That story is a joy to read and you’ll catch his wigeon wave if you do. Just to shoot so many ducks in areas with tight mallard limits, you’ll want to hop on the Cottontop Bandwagon.

Think back on your own younger, trigger-happy, waterfowling fledgling self. What gave you great joy? Chasing Sora rails? Beating up buffleheads? You don’t have to go so far as to take a kid coot hunting (though a nesting canvasback may thank you), but you may be overdue for a good time chasing woodies, gaddies or planning an action-packed blackjack rodeo.   

But only one duck quacks. As far as never caring if I saw another greenhead, well, that feeling never lasts. Duck geeks are straight up emotional about Mr. Curlytail. They are, quite simply, The Perfect Duck. Our collective infatuation with the mallard is why we have new WF contributor Shawn Swearingen’s immersive feature on our mallard obsession this issue. You will love this story.

Gratefully, coming Full Circle does not mean coming Fool’s Circle. It doesn’t ALL come back. We don’t wish to see the return of, say, decoy hats (shoot me, please), cardboard decoys (nope), goose flutes big enough to club cripples replacing short reeds (hard no!), or painted tires and bleach bottles edging out Dave Smith’s artistic goose fakes. 

There is zero nostalgia for rubber waders or ultra-thick Neoprene, which are now right up there with New Coke (remember?) and  Cheetos Lip Balm (not kidding!). But it’s sure fun to see effective OG tactics come back…it makes us veteran ‘fowlers instant experts in a good, legit, non-Youtuber sorta way! 

And we can all use some of that. I loathe cliches but sometimes it’s tough not to say: “…the more things change, the more they stay the same.”




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