By Doug Larsen, Illustrations by Bruce Cochran
In these politically correct times, perhaps I am about to be wildly incorrect by categorizing my fellow hunters based on their tendencies and personality traits. But years of observation prove that many waterfowlers can be grouped into certain types. Whether you hunt public or private, water or dry land, ducks or geese, you can identify these types of hunters by their proclivity to gravitate toward a specific focus or interest. Maybe that specificity really grinds your gears. If so, please be patient and kind. You may eventually find that person more endearing because of it, even if it is with a wry smile.
Here’s a sampling of these marsh characters. I hope you recognize some of your buddies in these descriptions. Personally, I think there’s a little bit of some of these in all of us. Waterfowl hunting is a grand tradition because, even though we approach our passion for the sport in different ways, we share a common love for the ducks. Go forth with a stern constitution, a buoyant attitude, and a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh at these characters, but be especially willing to laugh at yourself!
The Gear Hound
The Gear Hound usually has slightly more money than sense, and he just can’t resist buying the latest and greatest piece of gear—something that is certain to increase his enjoyment of the outdoors or blacken the airspace over his decoys with waterfowl. He is easy to identify by the crook in his back, because even though he is a younger guy, he has hauled a blind bag the size of a clothes dryer into every duck blind he has ever visited. His call lanyard looks like a cross between a string of holiday lights and a yard sale, and it is filled with calls, whistles, and remote controls for decoys that do everything short of riding an under-water Tilt-A-Whirl. Even if he is hunting 400 miles from the nearest ocean, he will likely have a brant call. He also carries a small grill and a mountaineering stove for making espresso in the blind. All of his camouflage matches, and at least one article of his clothing will incorporate LED lights. Even though it is patently unlucky to do so, he washes his hunting clothing regularly. Unfortunately, he never saw the last group of ducks that decoyed into his spread because he was busy downloading a new weather app.
This poor guy loves to duck hunt. He is eaten up with it, but he has only been at it for a season or two. He reads online forums, magazines, and blog posts, and he has watched hundreds of videos. But no matter what he reads or sees, he seems to get a different opinion. He feels like he is adrift on a sea of other hunters’ recommendations. He lost eight pounds during a smoldering-hot teal season because someone told him that neoprene waders were “the best.” And he is still trying to figure out if mergansers are part of the duck limit. He has three dozen mallard decoys and two drake canvasbacks that he puts out each morning in carefully paced-off patterns that resemble the lowercase letters “i” and “j” with the canvasbacks as the dots, because he was told that the white on the canvasbacks will help the rest of his decoys stand out. If you see the Newbie at the ramp and he asks you for advice, don’t send him on a snipe hunt. Instead, do your best to give him simple, honest input so he can relax and feel like he will someday make some sense of all of this madness.
The Old Timer
If the Newbie is on one end of the spectrum, the Old Timer is on the other end. He has been duck hunting since they lowered the limit on pterodactyls to two. He always sets his decoys the same way because it has always worked. He has a good dog that he talks to like a friend, two wooden duck calls, a metal thermos, and a small assortment of other equipment he cares for and trusts. He is never embarrassed to put up his hood or wear mittens if it is cold. He bought his gear from the Herter’s catalog when Nixon was president, and he has no plans to buy anything new unless he has a catastrophic breakdown of an oar lock or a trailer bearing. His only motion decoy is a jerk string, and the only things in his rig with batteries are his hearing aids. Don’t ask him his opinion about spinning-wing decoys or he will have to put a nitroglycerin pill under his tongue.
I have a soft spot for these waterfowlers. They are kind of like the Civil War reenactors of the duck hunting world. They delight in doing things the old way, with a 16-gauge double gun or a hammer pump, vintage clothing, and a double-ended duck boat. They prefer leather over nylon, canvas over Gore-Tex, wax paper over Tupperware, and sourdough over whole wheat. They make their own wooden decoys or use decoys carved by someone who is no more than three generations removed from an actual market gunner. They wouldn’t be caught dead in a stitch of camouflage clothing. To them, marsh brown never goes out of style. They hunt salt marshes or old cypress brakes, and they like black ducks, canvasbacks, bluebills, and coffee with chicory. Most of them can recite Gordon MacQuarrie or Robert Ruark passages verbatim, and they generally like to be left to themselves.
The Social Media Star
The very existence of this guy keeps the Traditionalist up at night with indigestion. This guy loves limits of ducks, but he loves gathering followers even more. He has a beard shaped like a garden spade and face paint on everything but his ears. If you see him, you never see his face, just his camera extended to arm’s length as he documents every minute of the day for his “story,” which I’m told is an Instagram thing with lots of food on it. For the Social Media Star, the worst thing that can possibly happen is a really great duck hunt that doesn’t involve a boat ride fast enough to make the dog’s ears flap. And it would help attract followers if the boat could jump a log or go around a sharp curve or two along the way. If you are social media savvy, you will notice that you see different photos of the same ducks over and over again on this guy’s feed. Please don’t click “follow.” That will just encourage him.
The Dog Whisperer
Dog Whisperers are generally really good people who just have their priorities a little out of whack. While most of us are out there with the express purpose of shooting a duck with our friends, taking it home, and then eating it, the Dog Whisperer won’t even consider going along if Ol’ Rip can’t be the one on the dog stand. And it isn’t enough that the dog swims out, gets a duck, and then comes back with it smartly. It is preferable that he should get out past the decoys and make a three-point turn that would be the envy of a European sports car engineer. There is no doubt that the Dog Whisperer has put in the time—a typical Dog Whisperer’s dog has the manners of a sommelier—but wouldn’t the dog be happier just to fetch a tennis ball every now and then? Dog Whisperers are easily identified by the dog whistles around their necks that look like centerpiece cornucopias, or aluminum dog boxes on their trucks the size of two-bedroom walk-ups.
Everybody who has ever used the business end of a shovel knows That Guy. He’s the one who doesn’t show up until after the work is done. Normally a denizen of a duck club, or a member of a small group of hunters who have banded together to brush blinds or paint decoys, That Guy is always overbooked. He can’t get there on Saturday until 11 o’clock, or he has to leave early to pick up his dog from the vet or his truck from the shop. Because he’s generally affable, we like to have That Guy around, but doing everything ourselves gets on our nerves at times. In a perfect world, That Guy would be the warehouse worker who strolls around with a clipboard and an orange safety vest. He would tour the area and nod with approval as he strolls by. Meanwhile the rest of us are up to our knees bailing dirty water out of a pit with buckets. Guess what, That Guy. You’re the guy buying the beer when the workday ends.
Like the Dog Whisperer, the Foodie is laser-focused on one specific part of his waterfowling experience. In this case, he is trying to elevate duck club meals to an art form. The Foodie gets the vapors if he hears that, while driving to the club at 5 o’clock in the morning, you right-handed gas station burritos and washed them down with yesterday’s coffee. He is constantly on the lookout for teal and juvenile specklebellies because they are tender and tasty. And he will wax eloquent about the heat-control virtues of the pellet grill. He uses words like “drizzle” and “reduction,” and he talks about “pairings from the cellar.” I don’t know about you, but in my cellar I have pairings of waders, a water heater, and Christmas decorations. The good thing about the Foodie is that he can make some tremendous meals. If you are around for dinner you’ll get to go along for the ride, and the food will be great. But beware that if you mention Little Debbie, you had better be talking about your niece, lest the Foodie’s man bun unfurl.
This is another character who has gone off his own little piece of duck hunting’s deep end. In his quest to shoot his share of ducks, he has elevated operating duck calls to something of an obsession. Now, if I am in the blind with this guy and he wrangles in a group of mallards from half a mile upwind by blowing a cut-down call with an exhaust hole the size of a garden hose, then I will give him all the kudos he deserves. But the Blowhard has to realize that just wailing away with a duck call is not the same as leaving bait in the water and hoping it will attract fish. It doesn’t work that way. His calling is just head-splittingly loud and generally annoying. All the Blowhard needs to know to be great company is to blow when there are callable ducks, and to put the calls away when there aren’t. Also, I really do want to sit in a blind and hear about his job, his family, and recent events, so I would prefer he use our time for mutual pleasantries. I do not need him to explain the intricacies of trimming a duck call reed. I do not want to debate the relative merits of the J-frame duck call. I do not wish to join hands while celebrating the miracle of Day-Glo acrylics. Force me to do so, and I will hide at my end of the blind in a catatonic state.
Do not, under any circumstances, be the Claimer. Here is the scenario: Three steely-eyed, experienced hunters share a blind with the Claimer. Five ducks hang over the decoys like damp wash on a clothesline. There is shooting, and all the ducks drop. As dogs retrieve the fallen, the Claimer declares through the gun smoke that he has just “made a great triple.” Mathematically this is possible, but unless the Claimer can show me medals from his days as a champion at Olympic trap or skeet, I’m gonna say that is a negative, Ghostrider. Folks, when there is more than one hunter participating in a duck hunt, the endeavor becomes by its very nature something of a team sport. We all have the desire and obligation to shoot our own ducks, but we should share the work and the success equally. The Claimer simply needs to learn to relax and be a team player. Normally, Claimer types are new to the sport, and not receiving invitations to future duck hunts for a time seems to make them almost magically shoot a bit less . . . impressively.