by M.D. Johnson
Just mention the word "public" to any waterfowl hunter who's been around the block a couple seasons and you'll get an instant reaction. "Been there, done that," he'll say. "Too crowded. And too many yahoos." Chances are he'll continue. "Won't be doing that again."
Let's face it: Any of you who have spent any time at all duck hunting on public land have had at least one bad experience. There's always the guy who calls nonstop (and not well at that), the skybusters and the guys who believe in the Wall of Steel theory of shotgunning.
And then there's the wonderful gentlemen who motor through your spread 5 minutes before shooting time and begin setting up 50 yards downwind. It's enough to make anyone get out from behind his blind and explain the situation in its entirety to this... well, fellow hunter.
The 10 Commandments
In our book, Successful Duck Hunting: A look into the heart of waterfowling, we built an entire chapter around the 10 commandments as they apply to duck hunting on public areas. And to be honest, I think they're worth repeating here, not only as rules of conduct, but also as guidelines that can both help you more effectively and efficiently hunt our nation's public wetlands. They also could elevate your level of enjoyment about the experience as a whole. After all, isn't that what it's all about – enjoying ourselves?
1. Thou shalt not shoot another man's swing – If your neighbor's working a flock that passes over your blind within range, let them go. It's common courtesy, and you never know when that neighbor's going to be built like Stone Cold Steve Austin and have a temper like Russell Crowe.
2. Thou shall allow ample space between thyself and others – This one's simple: Unless you're both willing to partner up, give the next guy room. And in most parts of the country, 50 yards isn't considered enough.
3. Thou shalt know the effective range of thy own 'fowling piece – They're called skybusters, these pseudo-hunters who shoot at anything within eyesight, and they rank right up there with Osama bin Laden.
4. Thou shalt not blow a duck call nonstop, nor at every bird and beast – Sure, you paid $20 for it, but that doesn't mean you have to get $20 out of it every trip into the field, does it? Remember the immortal words of legendary outdoor writer Nash Buckingham: "A duck call in the hands of the unskilled is conservation's greatest asset."
5. Thou shalt set up and tear down quickly and efficiently – In other words, don't putter through the decoy spreads 5 minutes before shooting time or lolly-gag in your blocks for an hour just because you have to be back to work at 9 a.m.
6. Thou shalt clean thy kill neither at the ramp nor in the parking lot – We as hunters need to realize that a lot of non-consumptive users – birdwatchers, photographers, hikers, school groups – use our nation's public areas, and that the image we leave at the ramp or in the parking lot reflects on us as a whole.
7. Thou shalt be familiar with and abide by waterfowl regulations – Another no-brainer. Ignorance, says the wildlife officer, is no excuse; however, it can come with a hefty fine.
8. Thou shalt know the area boundaries, and though tempted, stay within them – This one's not only a public relations issue, but a legal one as well. If it's marked Keep Out... well, then, KEEP OUT.
9. Thou shalt leave thy temper at home – Think about it. Do you really want to get into a shouting match with a complete stranger that you know has a gun? Enough said.
10. Thou shalt work harder than most – Nowhere in the world does the old adage, "Hard work and perseverance will be rewarded," hold truer than the realm of the public-land waterfowler. Do your homework and go that extra two miles, and you may have that mallard hole to yourself.