By Wade Bourne
As Confucius once said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." The same axiom applies to waterfowl hunting. Sometimes we make the sport more challenging than it has to be by burdening ourselves with too much gear, traveling great distances in search of birds, and pushing our bodies to the point of exhaustion.
I've hunted ducks and geese for more than five decades, and over the years I've learned that great waterfowling doesn't have to be difficult. Following are several ways in which I've simplified my waterfowling and also increased my enjoyment of the sport by planning better, hunting smarter, and fine-tuning my priorities.
Block Out Some Time
Years ago when I was working as a waterfowl guide, I had a regular client who owned a horse farm in Kentucky's Bluegrass region. Every day I'd have to ferry him to a nearby store two or three times so he could make business-related phone calls. He couldn't relax because of his continual need to check in, and of course this put a damper on his hunting success and enjoyment. With today's mobile devices, you can even stay connected to the office while you're in the duck blind. And that's not necessarily a good thing for waterfowlers.
When hunting season comes in, a busy schedule complicates and adds stress to a waterfowler's life. To avoid conflicts, block out your hunting dates, then adjust your schedule around the times you've set aside. Put in for vacation time well in advance of opening day. Arrange meetings and appointments around the dates you chose. If possible, do the same with family and holiday activities. Be sure to make these hunting dates inviolable. Then stick to your plan.
Hunt Closer to Home
I live in north-central Tennessee, and for several years I hunted mainly in Arkansas. The hunting was good, but the travel was long. My drive from home to camp was six hours. Many times I'd hit the road after work and arrive in camp late at night. I'd hunt hard for a day or two, then make the long drive back home, arriving exhausted and ill-tempered. It was just too much.
Today I've shifted most of my hunting to western Kentucky and southeast Missouri. I'm still hunting in good country, and I've cut my driving time by more than half. As a result, I'm more rested and less hurried.
Instead of spending long hours on the road, look for hunting opportunities closer to home. Minimizing travel can help you maximize your hunting time.
Build a Good Duck Blind
Not being fully concealed from the view of circling birds is a major headache for waterfowlers. Another is being uncomfortable. It's hard to enjoy a hunt when you're wet or chilled to the bone. For both of these reasons, you might want to consider building a good duck blind. Better camouflage translates into greater hunting success, while a blind with creature comforts increases enjoyment of the overall experience.
Two years ago my partners and I built a comfortable duck blind . We camouflaged the blind thoroughly and furnished it with chairs, shelves, and other amenities to make it as cozy and practical as possible.
When the season opened, our efforts paid off. Ducks worked to our "brush pile" with little suspicion. We stayed dry and warm, shielded from pelting rain and piercing north winds. And when action was slow, we stuck around longer because we were comfortable. This meant we were still in our blind on several occasions when the ducks finally decided to fly.
Scale Down Your Spread
A lot of work goes into rigging, deploying, and maintaining big decoy spreads . With a large portable spread, hunters have to spend considerable energy setting out and picking up decoys before and after the hunt. And though big permanent spreads are set out only once a season, these rigs demand constant attention to keep the decoys free of tangles, unencumbered by ice, and adjusted to changing wind directions.
To save yourself some time and effort, you might want to consider scaling down your spread. On our Kentucky farm, my hunting partners and I have a simple fencepost-and-wire blind a few rows inside a flooded cornfield. We keep two slotted sacks of decoys-a dozen per sack-in the blind. These are our very best decoys-freshly painted, oversized, and with flocked heads. It takes only a couple of minutes to set these out each morning, and this small number of super-realistic decoys is plenty to toll mallards coming to breakfast.
Technology has changed waterfowling just as it has everything else. Modern hunters have access to a broad range of new gear that has made hunting easier and more hassle-free. Layout blinds, mud motors, ATVs, new decoy systems, and improvements in shotguns and loads are all designed to make hunting more efficient and effective. New high-tech clothing and outerwear allow you to hunt with fewer cumbersome layers and still stay dry, warm, and comfortable.
The Internet is also a great resource that can help you make the most of your limited hunting time. Websites that feature migration updates, weather data, river and lake stages, and other useful information have made "intelligence gathering" easier than ever. Hunters who incorporate these new tools into their overall hunting strategies are sure to have a leg up on those who don't.
Hire a Guide
If you want a truly hassle-free experience, hire a guide and let him do the heavy lifting for you. Pay the fee, and settle back for a leisurely day of duck or goose hunting. All you have to do is show up with your gun, shells, and personal gear.
Before booking a hunt with a guide, do your homework. The best insurance is talking to references. Ask questions about the overall hunt-the location, blind, equipment, decoys, calling-and also about the guide's temperament, work ethic, and other pertinent information.
Remember that the one thing a guide can't control is the weather, which affects how well the birds fly. When you book a date, you're rolling the dice that you will hit a good day. If action is slow but the guide does his best for you, he has fulfilled his obligation.
Go with a Friend
A sure way to make waterfowling easier and more enjoyable is to go with a friend. When a hunting buddy extends an invitation, quickly accept it and lock in the date. Be considerate in sharing chores and expenses, such as carrying and setting out decoys, maintaining the blind, and buying gas and food.
If you are invited on a hunt, keep in mind that it's common courtesy for a guest to follow the lead of the host when putting out decoys, calling birds, and calling shots. And don't put your host in an uncomfortable spot by asking to bring your dog. If he wants help in this department, he'll tell you. Later, when you invite a friend to go hunting with you, expect the same common courtesies from your guests.
As waterfowlers, we sometimes judge success or failure by how many birds we bag. A slow day brings disappointment. A banner day fuels the desire for more. These emotional highs and lows come with the territory, but we should always be mindful of taking time to smell the roses. Duck hunting is meant to be an enjoyable endeavor, not an all-consuming quest to rack up numbers.
Sure, shooting ducks is the goal, but it should not be the only measure of success. Instead, step back and enjoy the other pleasant aspects of the hunt-duck blind banter with friends, the company of a canine partner, the beauty and fresh hope brought by each sunrise, the smell of a freshly spent shotgun shell, and the mystery of a high-flying V of geese. If ducks or geese grace your decoys and you bag a few birds, so much the better. But the joy should be in the doing, not the getting. It's the quest and the wonder that come along with the flights that matter most.