September 08, 2021
Whether you’re a greenhead greenhorn this year or still coming up through the ‘fowl funnel, you know how difficult it is to get started in this sport. It’s incredibly intimidating and there is so much to know. Between learning bird identification, purchasing all the licenses and stamps, finding a spot to hunt, and equipping yourself with enough gear to lead an army into combat, you feel like you have a PhD in “waterfowl-ology” by the time you make it to your very first hunt.
If you’re fortunate enough to find a spot in the boat or blind with a local group that will take you in, consider yourself lucky. This type of mentorship and opportunity will prove invaluable in your waterfowl wanderings. You’ll soon find out that each hunt and each conversation with your blind mates leads to an increased awareness and appreciation for all the little details. There are always lessons to be learned, from making sure you charge the battery on the spinning-wing decoy to bringing an extra box of shells or hiding your stainless coffee cup from back peddling birds. These experiences can humble you and are sure to educate if you are willing to learn. And while most of these lessons from the field are relatively harmless and forgivable, there are a few cardinal rules that you may want to avoid breaking. Steering clear of these behaviors from our list is a sure way to keep your spot open with your new crew.
Talking or Calling Too Much
If you get invited to a hunt, be a guest and be respectful to your hosts. Pay attention to their decoy setup, the way they call or flag at birds, and do your best to find your own place in the team’s operation. Thoughtful questions are generally welcomed and if you show a genuine interest in wanting to learn more and better understand the nuanced tactics of hunting, you’re much more liable to get honest answers to your inquiries. Even if you’ve been on a few hunts and killed a few birds, if you act like a know-it-all and start trying to dictate the happenings of the hunt, it’s not going to be very well-received.
If you’re a novice caller, always follow the leader, and talk to your hosts about how you can fit into the calling chorus. Perhaps you can add in a few subtle quacks, honks, or feeding chuckles but leave the sweettalking to the pit boss. If there is a lull in the action, ask your avian advisors for calling tips and run through a few strings of quacks and clucking sequences. Know your ability and your limitations and don’t come in and try to run the show and become the fifth wheel. If you run your mouth or are asked to set your calls down, you might want to start looking for another group to hunt with.
Not Bringing Anything to Offer
Hunting circles are much like a family or a business where everyone works, everyone contributes, and everyone gains. If you’re brand new to the game, you may not think you have much to offer, but you can’t ever go wrong showing up to the hunt with a box of delicious doughnuts or other popular blind chow. If you’re a little further along on your quest you may be able to offer your calling services or your decoy spread to your team. No matter where you are along in your waterfowling journey, there is always something that each one of us can bring to the table to improve the enjoyment and efficiency of the group.
Want to make ‘fowl friends fast? Burn some tire tread and boot leather and do some scouting. While scouting is arguably one of the most time consuming and least attractive aspects of this lifestyle, it is often the most necessary and a sure way to secure the way to a successful hunt. Take a drive before work or make an extra loop around town on your way home to watch the fall flights and check in on the bird activity in your area. Knock on the doors of local farmers or landowners and get permission to come back and hunt. Even if you can’t run a call or own a single decoy, if you can line up the next hunt, you’re bound to be the best bud in your band.
Don’t be afraid to whip out your wallet as the new guy or gal in the group. If someone burned gas for the trip, pay them back by buying them lunch and if they have thousands invested in a trailer full of decoys and blinds or a tricked-out duck boat, consider bringing a few boxes of ammo for the fowl foray. Don’t sell yourself short in what you have to offer, just like momma said, it’s the thought that counts here.
Calling Your Own Shots
Being invited on a hunt comes with certain expectations by your host(s). Even if you are a flyway veteran, there is a level of understanding and an arrangement with who will be leading the show and calling the shots. These “shots” refer to the general operations inside the blind as well as pulling up and shooting birds. Generally, the point person who organized the hunt is familiar with the location, the decoy set, and how the birds may react. Don’t be a dolt and get in there and start pulling up to skyblast or open fire on birds that haven’t fully committed. You’re going to lose a lot of likes if you get too trigger happy. Calling the shot at the appropriate time not only leads to everyone going home safe, but it means the difference between your group killing two ducks from a flock and knocking down the entire bunch.
There may be a time when you’re given a hall pass to call your own shots. If you are at the far end of a boat/blind or you’re the last layout in the line and birds are giving a far swing to your side or you’ve got a lone bird that dumped into your side and it’s now or never, let it rip. Most times your blind mates will recognize this situation and encourage you to shoot.
All joking aside, gun safety is the #1 place where mistakes and failures are not an option, and everyone in the group should have a zero-tolerance policy. We’ve all been through hunter education courses and many of us have had safe gun handling habits hammered into us from our dads and grandads. Practicing proper gun safety is something that no hunter of any age or skill level should ignore—there is nothing cool about a hunting accident.
There are some basic behaviors to practice whenever you’re out hunting such as muzzle control, knowing your target and what’s beyond it, keeping your safety on until you’re ready to fire, but at the core, gun safety is a mindset and a mentality that translates to a general hazard awareness. And while true accidents do happen, most are preventable and can be mitigated with proper behavior. Simple things like making sure you’re using the proper gauge shell for your gun, keeping your barrel out of the mud, and setting your gun down so it won’t fall and accidently go off should be part of your regular conduct.
Another critical component of blind safety is proper gun handling around working dogs. A fun hunt can turn to terror quickly if there is a dog breaking on birds or a retriever in the decoys chasing cripples as a fresh flock is landing. Nobody should be touching a gun whatsoever if a dog is out of the blind.
Stay in the muck and marshes long enough and you’ll probably have to eat crow and apologize to your buddies a time or two about something small and forgivable, but you’ll never be able to excuse or take back a hunting accident that resulted from something completely preventable.
Burning a Spot
Aside from an egregious error in gun safety, burning a spot is probably the easiest way to ensure you will never get invited back for another hunt. If someone brings you to a goose feed on private plot or a duck hole on a lease, it’s your duty to honor that invitation and guard that secret like your Instagram password. Your host had to go through some level of trouble to scout those birds and obtain permission or even pay to play and get you there, and it’s a slap in the face if they come back the following week only to see you in their blind. The best thing you can do to honor your privilege is to return the favor and invite them to a hunt of your own. Your good nature will be received and is sure to earn you some additional buddy points.
Now public land hunting can be a tad trickier when it comes to who “owns” or hunts a certain spot. Some states allow hunters to construct blinds prior to opening day and in other places hunters will place a sign with their name in their spot to notify others they intend to hunt there. What I have found in my experience is to either call the name and number or catch up with them for a chat and see if you can’t work together. If you get invited to a public land pursuit, it’s still a good gesture to ask your host if they mind if you hunt it later on.
These are not all of the things to be thinking about but certainly some of the biggest mistakes waterfowlers make. Keep your wits, keep your cool, and you’ll have no problem keeping your options open and keeping a place in any boat or blind you’re offered.