Staying In The Game

If you’re a member of a California duck club, or of one in Arkansas, you can stop reading this column now. But if you’re just a guy, young or old, trying to shoot ducks on your own, then we need to talk. Times have changed. It’s tougher than ever to be that guy who finds ducks on public or private ground, gains access and throws out his own decoys. Maybe you’re thinking of giving up duck hunting? I’m going to tell you why you might want to reconsider.

Yeah, it’s tough out there. Just because I’m the editor a waterfowl magazine, don’t think I, and the guys I hunt with, haven’t felt it. We’re DIY guys too. We’ve had to adjust our sights for any number of reasons. Some places are too dry. In some parts it’s tougher and tougher to get permission on private land. Then there’s hunting pressure, always a factor. Finally, maybe the weather’s got you bamboozled. Several years of summerlike Octobers and Novembers can do that to a hunter.

The good news is, there still are ways to find unfettered birds, avoid the crowds and have some darn decent shooting. Sometimes it just takes an attitude adjustment, and a bit of recommitment. Remember, duck counts are at record numbers, so they are out there! Here are some tips to get yourself back in the game:

Stop comparing yourself to others. Social media can create the false impression that everybody’s shooting lots of birds, except you! Not true. Everybody has good and not-so-good days. Stay positive.

Stay flexible. As each new season approaches, have a plan, but stay flexible. If you’ve got dates set, have backup plans for those dates. If a week before your hunt, Plan A doesn’t look right, launch Plan B.

Don’t whip a dead horse. If the area you hunted successfully for 10 years starts declining, there is a reason. Focus on a new area.

Accept that weather and birds are cyclical. Ducks and geese are waterbirds. When planning, be willing to forsake entire areas during times of drought. Follow the water, find the birds. Are crops flooding somewhere? The Internet has made this easy to do.

Avoid the outfitters. Sure, you can see more birds in the skies above traditional waterfowl Meccas, but outfitters have all the land locked up. Avoid these areas. Widen your scouting.

Update/organize your gear. Having better gear makes for more efficient and effective hunting—period.

Buy a new gun! If you haven’t shot a new gun lately, you have no idea what you are missing. Time to rack the old blunderbuss.

Take a waterfowling vacation (Mr. Selfish trip or Ms. Selfish trip). Every year, treat yourself to one bucket-list hunt with a reliable outfitter. Golfers do it; baseball fans do it. Spoil yourself. Make memories and feed your passion!

And always remember, a bad day in the duck blind is better than the best day at work! Good luck hunting!