What Skills Make Duck Hunters Great
You probably have a buddy or know a guy who seems like he knows everything about duck hunting.
He usually returns to the landing with a boatload of ducks, and he seems to have the answer to every curveball Mother Nature throws his way. Basically, he is a damn good duck and goose hunter.
Still, sometimes you wonder what makes him such a good hunter. You might use the same decoys, boat and gun as your buddy, and your dogs seem fairly similar. Yet while you stumble and fail at times, he never seems to miss a beat.
Your buddy probably has several critical traits that lift him above ordinary weekend warrior waterfowlers. In fact, most successful hunters, whether they’re field shooters, decoy nuts, open-water guys or flooded timber specialists — share these attributes. Let’s look at some common characteristics of skilled duck and goose guys.
Knowledge & Experience
A good hunters know their quarry. They understand how ducks and geese react to hunting pressure and weather conditions. They’ve learned where to set up for success and how to conceal themselves from birds. This knowledge wasn’t free, as these folks paid for it with endless study and time in the marsh, lakes, timber and fields.
Successful hunters don’t have to be gear nuts with all the latest techno gadgets, but they must have the tools for success in most situations, including skiffs, boats, motors, trailers, decoys, and blinds. Also, they must know how to use these tools, whether that means push-poling a skiff through a rice marsh or easing a 20-foot boat next to layout boat to pick up another hunter.
Duck & Goose Calling
You don’t have to be a state or world duck calling champion to bring birds into your spread. You must, however, know what real ducks and geese sound like and be able to imitate those vocalizations at the right time, whether it’s a hail call to get the attention of high-flying birds or a subtle feeding chuckle to finish ducks in your pothole. Buy a good instructional video, watch it often and blow your calls while you do. Also, get out in the marsh during spring or just before the season and listen to real birds. I have seen mediocre callers be excellent waterfowl hunters. Timing is everything. Knowing when to call, what to call, how loud to call and probably most importantly when not to call!
Good duck and goose hunters can handle their shotguns, whether on hard-crossing bluebills or high overhead honkers. They know when to call the shot, how to make the most of big flocks and how to take birds without messing up their hunting partners. Again, this is no accident. Most good wing-shooters have paid many dues on the skeet, trap or sporting clays range and just years of experience in the field. You will make a lot of mistakes, but learn from those mistakes. It will make you a better duck hunter.
You cannot maximize duck and goose hunting efficiency if your dog barks at birds overhead, breaks at every shot and fails to mark easy open-water retrieves. You do not need a hunt-test or field-trial champion, though that never hurts. If nothing else, good waterfowlers have a bond with and control over their canine partners. They only accomplish this through hours of training, scores of dummies and piles of live birds, but it’s time well spent. Spend time with your dog before the season and know his or her abilities as well as their limitations.
This might be the most important skill good hunters share. Typically, they’ are flexible and not rigid in their approach to duck hunting. They might skiff-hunt a small marsh one day, jump-shoot a creek the next, field-hunt for honkers that evening and then search open water for divers later that week. Moreover, they don’t get locked into preconceived notions, and they’re not wimps. If they need to hunker down in a prairie pasture, no problem. Breaking ice at a boat landing? Part of doing business, even if they must replace a trailer light. They adapt easily to every situation — and usually reap full straps by doing so. Try something new! If what you are doing is not working, change it up. The definition of insanity for a duck hunter is "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result".
You likely have several of these characteristics, but I’m guessing you — like most — can probably improve in some areas. There’s no shame in that. Identifying your relative weaknesses is the first and most important step toward improving. That will only result in more enjoyable days afield. Keep learning and trying new things. Afterall, a big part of waterfowl hunting is about self-improvement and getting better at your craft everytime you step into the field.
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