We’re huddled over the kitchen sink, holding our phones to the window. It’s the only way we can find a consistent signal in our middle-of-the-prairies farmhouse rental. We had just watched a pile of mallards pouring into a quarter-acre pothole a few miles to the northwest. We have the landowner’s name, but finding a workable phone number to ask for permission has been a Gordian knot. My tech-savvy son, Jack, has been navigating the internet, searching social media pages and small-town newspaper websites to track down a handful of the landowner’s relatives, but we have yet to get one on the phone. “Alright! Here’s another option,” Jack says. “So far we’ve tried to call a Randall, an Amber, and a Terry. Now I found a cousin named John. Come on, big John!”

And off we go, dialing for ducks.

That’s just one of the wacky ways I’ve tried to score permission to hunt waterfowl. I think about that this time of year, when I’m looking for new ducking spots at home in North Carolina. I’m a member of a club with a long, meandering beaver swamp complex, but I like to have a few other possibilities in my back pocket.

Once, I sat down and wrote a letter to the executive directors of every land conservancy within a 75-mile radius, asking if they knew of any landowners who might be willing to lease a beaver swamp. I introduced myself, played up my status as a father, and sucked up as much as I could without being too cheesy. Out of a dozen letters, I got only one bite, but it was a doozy. I connected with a landowner who gave me permission to hunt a pair of his farms, which included access to a long, floatable stretch of creek. We’ve become solid friends over the last 15 years. That’s been much more valuable than ducks in the bag.

A few years back, I was having a diamond replaced in my wife’s engagement ring. Through a bit of small talk, the jeweler found out I was a hunter. “Oh,” she said, “you need to come out to my place and shoot all the deer running around. I’m right up against a wildlife management area. And there’s a big swamp out there too.”

My eyes grew wide. “You’re not serious,” I said, but it was hard to talk when I had my fingers, my toes, and even my tongue crossed.

“No, come on out,” she replied.

I hunted her place for a decade.

For a long time I started every day with a few minutes of rummaging through Craigslist. I searched for “duck swamp” and “duck club” and “duck lease” and “duck hunting.” Most times I struck out. But not every time.

One day a fellow posted about a swamp hardly a half-hour drive from my house. When I called and asked if I could take a look, he laughed. “I have three parties ready to rent it,” he said. “They’re coming tomorrow, but it’s first-come, first-served.” I pulled out of the driveway 10 minutes later, and I was hundreds of dollars lighter within the hour.