3. Hunt Diving Ducks from a Layout Boat
Every duck hunter should try this style of hunting at least once. If up to now your duck hunting has consisted of sitting in the farm pond blind with Uncle Clarence, jump in the truck and drive east or west. Stop when you smell the ocean. (Or you can head for the Great Lakes; they are crazy about layout boats up there too.)
There is nothing quite like slipping over the side of a big, warm tender boat into a little almond-shaped sliver of fiberglass. Once the tender pulls away, it's just you and the decoys on a rolling green sea. By virtue of the boat's low profile, and the fact that you are lying inside it, you'll get a diving duck's view of the world. With any luck, you'll have high-speed ducks working just off the bill of your cap and skidding into your decoys at point-blank range. Usually, layout operators put only one boat in the water at a time, so when it's your turn "in the box," the show is all for you.
4. Teach a Kid to Call
If you are a parent, you know the joys of teaching a skill to a youngster. There is no feeling in the world like seeing recognition of a skill completed on a small, smiling face, whether it is catching a ball or solving multiplication problems. But if duck hunting runs hot in your family, fan the flames in your youngster by teaching him or her to blow a duck call.
We are all familiar with the "take a kid hunting" theme, and whether it is your child or a neighbor's, taking the next generation hunting is essential to keeping our tradition alive and thriving. Teaching young hunters to call ducks or geese is a vital piece of the participation puzzle, and it may be the key ingredient in turning them from bystanders at the end of the blind into true participants.
The day they call a wary mallard to the spread all by themselves will be worth all those hours spent squeaking and squawking in the cellar. Okay, maybe it won't be worth it to other members of the family, but a duck call is still better than the cymbals.
5. Hunt the Arkansas Timber
There is flooded green timber in other states, but Arkansas has the most and the best. You really cannot understand the special attraction of hunting "the woods" until you have seen it firsthand. Little in waterfowling provides the up-close-and-personal spectacle that flooded timber hunting showcases, and most first-timers ask the same question of their hosts: "You really think a duck is going to land in here?"
Standing thigh deep in water and hugging a tree trunk in a dark gray sea of limbs does not sound, on the surface, like a very special experience. But then you glimpse a group of mallards over the treetops, and a well-timed comeback call brings them back around. If all goes according to Hoyle, soon they are fluttering down among the trees, breaking off sticks and leaves as they descend, and in the silence of that one moment, it will all make breathtakingly good sense. Meanwhile, no state welcomes the duck hunter like Arkansas, and each November every motel, steakhouse and roadside joint hoists a sign that states, "Welcome Duck Hunters."
6. Visit the Eastern Shore
Perhaps no region of the country is as steeped in waterfowling tradition as the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Market gunners in sailboats plied these waters hundreds of years ago and filled wooden barrels with canvasbacks for the market.
These days, the Canada goose is king, and guides in this region are fastidious about decoys, blinds and hunting techniques. They commonly hunt geese over decoy spreads that would fill a hay wagon, and some use rigs composed entirely of "stuffers" that taxidermists have mounted in realistic poses.
The Eastern Shore is rife with quaint hotels that happily accommodate muddy boots, and hunting-friendly proprietors always seem to wink and look the other way if a well-behaved dog sneaks toward his owner's room.
Aside from great hunting, every store that sells antiques or knickknacks seems to have an old decoy or two in the window. It's great fun to knock around and browse while your geese are at the picking house.