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When to Shoot Sitting Ducks

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by Richard Simms

Everybody has their own obsession. Duck hunters pass the days -- Spring, Summer and Fall -- dreaming of whistling wings and waterfowl. They watch and wait until the world is frosted in the orange glow of a rising sun. When each morning sky is sprinkled with mallards, gadwalls and geese silhouetted against the break of day. Waterfowl with wingtips and feet outstretched as they rock and roll into a brisk headwind, battling the air currents, fighting towards an empty spot left purposely in the decoys.
 
No sound on earth can duplicate the "sploosh" of feathery breasts settling onto the water. The gun safeties click and a dog, shivering with excitement, cannot hold back a hearty whine.
 
In hushed tones the hunters quickly discuss the situation, "Two greenheads on the right, you get those, I'll take the one on the left." "Okay, let's get 'em!" "Hey duck!"
 
It must really sound stupid if you're off in the distance listening. To see two camouflaged heads pop out of a blind screaming, "Hey duck!" But there's really a good reason for it. You see, a duck is a wary bird, one of the wariest. But when they're fooled--I mean totally and completely taken in by a good decoy spread and well-built blind--they can suddenly get real stupid.
 
Most duck hunters will rarely shoot the quintessential "sitting duck." But some hunters do thoroughly enjoy allowing ducks to land in the decoys. It is far more challenging, insures precise identification and allows for less confusion when the shooting starts.
 
Many of us really hate those "gang shoots" where several hunters shoot a box of shells at passing birds and nobody really knows who hit what. Letting ducks hit the water first lets you 1) pick out the greenheads more easily, and 2) decide who will shoot what. That is, until the wiliest mallard in the world decides to play dumb.
 
Somewhere long ago, in the school of evolution, many ducks learned that when they're looking down the barrel of a twelve gauge, it may be best NOT to fly. It's more common on open water and especially when it's a single bird. They quack nervously, and then turn tail and start swimming. You're standing there watching the southbound end of a northbound duck leaving a wake. And at the top of your lungs you're yelling, "Hey duck, hey duck! Hey you blankety-blank poor excuse for a blank duck, fly, hit the sky!"
 
They will do so, finally, when they've reached the 50 yard line. That's typically how far they know they've got to go before they're safely out-of-range for the average shooter. And many of the good shooters are so frustrated and mad by then that they couldn't hit the lake they're standing in. Oh, how many times have I watched ducks swim out of range as I was torn apart by the desire to succeed -- to kill actually -- and the desire to obey an unwritten law hammered home over the years.
 
I've never fully understood it. People shoot deer standing still. They shoot squirrels, turkeys, and bears while they're all still as statues. And in most hunting circles, such acts are considered perfectly appropriate and ethical. Yet we're not supposed to shoot sitting ducks.
 
I well remember the time I first saw the rule broken. A close friend, who's identity I'll protect to the grave, shattered that time-honored rule. A big drake gadwall cupped his wings and landed gently just to the right of the decoys, 25 yards away. The safety clicked, the dog whined, and my friend popped up out of the blind yelling, "Hey duck!"

The big gad turned his backside toward us and started swimming. The dog couldn't stand it and raced to the water's edge. Still the duck swam, watching over what a duck calls shoulders.
 
These days police officers are supposed to give fair warning before they zap someone with a electric tazer. Most department policies require that the officer yell, "tazer, tazer, tazer" before pulling the trigger. My friend isn't a cop, but he was equally fair in the case. He gave the old gadwall three bodaciously loud, "Hey duck's!"
 
Then, just shy of the forty yard line, the duck paddled his last paddle, rolling on the water amidst a magnum load of lead (this was many years ago).
 
I must admit, I was more than a little proud as my friend set down his smoking gun, grinned a sinister little grin and made reference to "keeping the gene pool pure."
 
Sometimes a man's just got to do what a man's got to do.

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