5. Not Having Adequate Concealment
Veteran hunter Tommy Akin of Greenfield, Tennessee, was a college student when he made an opening day mistake that he still chuckles about today. "We'd had a very dry fall, and water was scarce in the bottoms where my buddies and I hunted," he says. "But a few days before the season opened, we found a place where beavers had dammed up a ditch and backed about five acres of shallow water into an adjacent field."
The landowner hadn't farmed this spot because it was too wet, so it had grown up in smartweed. "Several hundred mallards and other ducks were coming there early each morning to feed," Akin says. "We wanted to hunt there, but there was no cover; it was totally open. So we came up with a game plan."
Three days before the season started, Akin and his partners slogged into this pothole before dawn and erected a post-and-chicken-wire blind by flashlight. The idea was to finish the blind before the ducks started arriving at dawn so as not to disturb the birds. "When we left there, it looked great," Akin says. But when they returned before dawn on opening day, they received a rude awakening. "There wasn't a stick of brush on our blind—not one. It was totally bare. Just posts and chicken wire. The beavers had found the fresh willows we'd put on the blind, and they'd carried every one off to their lodge."
This was a rare occurrence, to be sure, but it underscores the importance of concealment. As with other waterfowling equipment, blinds should be routinely inspected and maintained. Hunters should also make sure that their camouflage clothing matches the natural cover in their hunting area. This could mean wearing a green camo pattern in the early season, when there is still a lot of green leafy vegetation around.
6. Overlooking the Fundamentals
Lamar Boyd of Tunica, Mississippi, operates Beaver Dam Hunting Services on the oxbow lake made famous by the writings of Nash Buckingham. Boyd sees duck hunters repeat the same obvious mistakes, on opening day and otherwise. Among these is the failure to familiarize themselves with their shotguns well before opening day. "If you're new to waterfowling or if you have a new gun, study the owner's manual to learn how to properly load the shells, change chokes, and ensure there's a plug in the magazine," he says. "Then take the gun to the range for some hands-on practice."
Boyd also advises waterfowlers to purchase a duck stamp early, sign it, and affix it to their license so they'll be ready when opening day arrives. He offers up a cautionary tale to illustrate his point.
"Last year, my sister-in-law called two days before the season opener looking for federal duck stamps for her two sons," Boyd says. "Her local post office and Walmart were sold out. So I started looking in our area, and it was the same deal—everybody was sold out of duck stamps and didn't know when they'd get more. Those boys missed opening day because they hadn't bought their stamps ahead of time and couldn't find them on short notice."
Even waterfowlers who wait until the last minute to purchase a federal duck stamp shouldn't miss the season opener. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is piloting a program that allows customers to purchase a federal stamp online. These e-stamps can be used immediately and are valid for 45 days from the date of purchase, after which hunters will have to carry their actual federal duck stamp sent to them in the mail. Currently, eight states are participating in this pilot program, but anyone, regardless of where they live, can purchase an e-stamp through any of these states. Visit fws.gov/duckstamps for more information.
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