Hunting’s not all about the shooting. If it were, we’d have quit duck hunting and settled for sporting clays or simple trap shooting long ago. Considered in the scale of time we put in with travel, scouting, hauling and setting decoys, brushing blinds and waiting for birds, trigger-pulling barely registers.
Yet the shooting certainly can be memorable. Most hunters seem to remember their first duck with surprising clarity—and as well, those noteworthy shots of us or our companions that become stamped upon our memory.
Shooters, I’ve noticed, each have a signature way of going about their business. Some are lightning fast on the trigger, others more deliberate, and some always last in line or choosing not to shoot at all. This range of styles demands “calling the shot”—that all important method of creating equity and best results in “working bird” situations.
Calling the shot is often seen as a privilege, but truly, it’s more a responsibility. It takes a team leader with experience and good judgement. By default, an outfitter or guide becomes the shot caller on guided hunts. Within an informal group of friends, it falls to the most capable. There are times when a shot caller performs indecisively more than once and must be replaced. It’s all for the greater good.
But even with calling the shot, there are going to be some shooters who always seem to be ahead of the pack when it comes to folding the “fat” bird—that greenhead that’s front and center and commands everybody’s eye as the birds drop in.
How do these guys get their shots off so fast? Lots of sporting clays? It’s impressive, but it’s not my style. I got cured of racing for the fat bird on an industry hunt in Alberta years ago. Two guys from one of the gun companies, good fellows, were so quick that there was no way to beat them to the fat birds.
Instead of racing to shoot the same birds, I started looking for the “other” birds in a flock, that greenhead a little behind and off center, that I knew nobody else would be shooting at initially. It worked well and since then it’s helped me create some memorable shots of my own.
My buddy Jack is one of those quick-shot McGraws. I remember a late-season mallard hunt with a cold prairie sun illuminating the birds as they came in left to right. Jack, to my right as the shot was called, dropped a lit-up drake wigeon from the back of the flock to my left just as I was pulling up on the bird. Was Jack out of his lane? You bet. Was it a great shot? Yes! And I told him so. At a certain age, it’s more about the result than the who did what.
Those memorable shots, our own, and those of our companions, are what fill our memory banks over a lifetime of hunting. We might not well remember the miles and the work, but we remember the birds and those bright moments when it all came together.
Photo Will Massey