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Opening Day Mistakes

Avoid these common errors and oversights to ensure a successful start to your waterfowl season
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2. Neglecting Your Gear

Charlie Holder of Orange, Texas, owns Sure-Shot Game Calls and is a lifelong duck hunter. Several years back he learned a hard lesson about boat motor maintenance and opening day expectations. "I was taking two 12-year-old boys on their first duck hunt," Holder says. "Their fathers didn't hunt, but these boys wanted to give it a try. I volunteered to take them." 

At the time, Holder had a lease on a 500-acre reservoir near the Gulf Coast, where he kept his boat docked. He hadn't started the outboard since teal season, more than two months earlier. "The two boys and I loaded our gear into the boat, and I went to start the motor, but it wouldn't fire," he says. "I tried everything I knew, and I nearly wore myself out yanking the starter cord, but nothing worked."

Holder ended up pushing the boat—loaded with the boys, dog, and all their hunting gear—a quarter-mile over open water to the blind. The water was nearly chest deep and the reservoir's bottom was gumbo mud. "Pushing the boat that far exhausted me," Holder says. "We got to the blind way past shooting time and long after the ducks had quit flying. The boys never got a shot. We were all very disappointed."

As it turned out, Holder's opening day was foiled by a fouled spark plug. The problem could have been prevented with just a little routine maintenance. This is true of many other equipment failures that occasionally sabotage an otherwise promising hunt. Take care to ensure that your gun, duck calls, waders, decoys, and other gear are in working order before the season starts, and chances are they won't fail you when the birds are flying.

3. Quitting Too Early

Will Primos of Jackson, Mississippi, is an avid duck hunter and call maker who knows the value of scouting to find where birds are congregating. Before the season begins, he typically puts in enough hours and road miles to uncover a "sweet spot" for a good opening day hunt. A few years back, however, he learned another important lesson.

On the day before the season started, Primos and his hunting partners found a concentration of mallards in an isolated slough. Prospects for the next morning looked promising. The hunt, however, turned out to be marginal. "We got a few ducks early, but by nine o'clock the hole was just dead," he says. "Nothing was coming." They soon gave up and headed into town for a late breakfast. 

In the afternoon, they returned to see if they could fill out their limits. "When we returned to the slough, it was absolutely covered up with ducks," Primos says. "We flushed them and set up and quickly limited out on birds that came right back in."

The lesson Primos learned is to be patient. Hunters who have waited months for the season to begin shouldn't abandon their blinds at the first sign of a slow day. Weather conditions, feeding patterns, or the timing of migratory flights can bring in waterfowl at any time. And if you quit early, you won't be there when the birds arrive.

4. Making Rash Decisions

Scott Glorvigen of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, knows that old-hand duck hunters aren't immune to making imprudent mistakes, especially on opening day. A couple of years ago, he and his son Adam made plans to open the season on a wild rice lake north of town. They had intended to set up on an island they'd hunted before where ring-necked ducks and other divers liked to work.

"Our first mistake was me hitting the snooze button on the alarm, so we started off late," Glorvigen says. "Then when we got to the lake and motored out, we discovered that somebody had beaten us to our spot. So there we were. Shooting time was close, and we had to do something fast. I quickly motored around to the east side of the island, and we started tossing out decoys without much thought about how we were setting up. Then we hid the boat and crouched behind some cover on the shore to wait for the ducks to fly."

The ducks began coming in at dawn, and Glorvigen quickly realized his mistake. "We had a west wind at our back, and we were looking straight into this big bright fireball that's rising above the trees," Glorvigen says. "Those ringbills were screaming in like kamikazes, straight out of the sun. Shooting was brutal. After a few incoming flights, my son gave up and went walking up the shore, looking for another spot where he could pass-shoot. It was just a total mess."

Glorvigen compounded his first mistake of arriving late by making rash decisions when plans started falling apart. "If things don't go the way you expect, don't start floundering and making hasty decisions," he warns. Instead, stop and analyze where you need to set up. Consider the wind direction, the sun, available cover, and other important factors. Then take the time to set your decoys and hide properly. The extra time you spend doing these things will usually pay off in better shooting and a more enjoyable experience.

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