Duck hunting has a culture. And no, I’m not saying that we’re all like the guys from Duck Dynasty. The world’s not ready for that.
However, the very nature of the sport lends itself to a shared experience. From panel blinds and boats, to pickups and piano boxes, we share tight spaces in mud, muck, stubble, and swampland for long periods of time at odd hours of the day. Duck hunters, perhaps more than any other hunting subgroup, spend an exorbitant amount of time huddled around each other.
It’s natural that we’d create some kind of loose framework for what we find acceptable in our culture. And no matter how frequently we discuss the rules of the game, there’s always someone out there who either doesn’t know better or whose tongue-wagging machismo often puts them at odds with the recommended best practices. Either group is capable of committing dick moves. Here are a few ways they do it.
It’s a quiet day but there are still a few birds on the move. One flock, estimated at somewhere between 20 to 30 birds, is on their second pass. They’re still high, probably 150 yards, and as they swing around the far side of the marsh you hear it: a volley of gunshots thunder in discordance. Not a single bird drops. Crestfallen, you watch as the now-piecemeal group scatters, dissolving into the horizon. Thanks a lot, dick.
We’ve all seen it (and a lot of us are guilty of it). Skybusting is the act of shooting passing waterfowl at extreme distances, typically overhead. To a large degree, this stems from a failure to properly estimate distance and/or remain patient while birds work a spread. Though the occasional barrel-stretching shot hits home from time to time, pulling the trigger on birds much past 50 yards is both ineffective and poses potential challenges for bird retrieval.
The reasons not to shoot at this range are nearly endless. Beyond wasting your money on shells, your freezer will contain fewer birds, the birds you do shoot will often escape wounded, your hunting buddies will look at you askance, and you will gain notoriety as “that guy” who encourages birds to head South sooner. So, spend some time at your local shooting range and figure out what those proper yardages actually look like. The results might surprise you.
It’s late in the season. You and one of your buddies just returned to the boat ramp after a successful morning. It’s warming up, but slowly. There’s still frost on the shady side of the razor grass as you swing a full strap of greenheads out of the boat. You step onto the ramp and find yourself immediately greeted by a scene that lands somewhere between a trash-loading ramp at a meat packing facility and the aftermath of an occultist ceremony: multiple limits of duck bodies scattered hither and thither; breasted out and left in an inconvenient location for coyotes, corvids, and us. Clearly no attempt was made to recover the legs, thighs, or wings, or get the duck parts into the nearby woods. Dick move, buddy.
Not only is this practice wasteful in general, it violates federal laws against transportation of migratory birds and falls under the category of wanton waste. Defined as the act of “intentionally wast[ing] something negligently or inappropriately,” nearly all U.S. states have laws in effect intended to curb this action, but waterfowl hunters can be particularly guilty when it comes to making poor use of their harvest. And since hunters are increasingly faced with explaining the relevance of our sport to non-hunters, why provide evidence that we can’t effectively follow the rules?
Wings and legs contain more sinew, tendons, and ligaments than other parts of the bird and require a couple of extra minutes to remove. However, like the shanks of a deer, some of the best meat on an animal comes from these cuts. Slow cooked, braised and pulled, or confited, those parts are as good or better than any duck breast and probably more versatile. So, save your duck legs. I promise they will be tastier and cheaper than a game law citation.
It’s Saturday morning. You know the crowds are going be out en masse today, so you’ve allotted plenty of time to find the spot, get the blocks positioned, and spill some coffee on yourself. The motion decoys are in place and running smoothly when you spot the worst possible thing a duck hunter can see in the moments before shooting light: a headlamp bouncing through the distance, followed by a not-too-quiet voice burbling some poorly-worded instructions to their partner. They set up just far enough away to not be dangerous, but close enough to your location that every incoming group of birds will be affected. You know, another one of those solid dick moves.
This is a common situation on large marshes and refuges. A particular one of those comes to mind, for instance, where I really like sharing the blind with my buddy Jim. He’s from New York, and hearing him provide a quiet commentary about the approaching Johnny-Come-Latelies is truly a treat.
His creative lexicon really shines in these moments. Plus, a lot of the time there isn’t anything that you can do, other than complain. Occasionally though, these situations can be a golden opportunity to combine forces. You already share the same passion for the same shitty mud and mucky marsh with anyone else out there, so sometimes it can be prudent to just share a blind and become friends.
“It’s often the only way the morning is going to work out,” said Ryan Callaghan, who knows this situation all too well. “It can be tough with dogs, but if everyone can put his or her hubris aside, the hunt can be mutually beneficial—and occasionally you’ll even learn a thing or two.”
If you do find yourself in this situation, and most of us will at some point, use your best manners. Chances are that someone in the other party has made the same mistake once or twice. I know it’s crazy, but with a little communication, you might be able to avoid a dick move entirely and scratch out a good hunt.