Friday, December 31, 2010

Duck hunting in the wind: A vivid lesson

If you want to get a duck hunter around here excited, all you need is three words: "Strong north wind."

Strong north winds tend to bring really good duck hunting. They stir up the birds, and because ducks land into the wind, you can end up with a mid-air target that's virtually holding still.

But big wind is a mixed blessing, because it also makes shooting really difficult. I got a vivid reminder of that on Wednesday.

It had been a bizarre morning.
It was supposed to start with a strong south wind and rain, but neither came to fruition. Instead we had intermittent fog, and some odd atmospheric acoustic phenomenon that made gunshots sound like the thunder I remember from my days in Virginia - the sound just ripped across the marsh like a giant bowling ball roaring across gravel.

Add to that the fact that we were surrounded by a bunch of total jacklegs.

First, a couple morons walked out into the marsh right at shoot time - you know, the time when you're supposed to hunker down and let the birds come in - and set up literally 30 yards from one of the guys in my party. Not only rude, but really unsafe.

Then, the hunters to the south of us would not stop calling. Lord, they were even calling specklebelly geese which are illegal to hunt where we were. It was like going to a movie and getting stuck next to a couple chatterboxes.

And here's the kicker: I was shooting like crap. I had a duck come straight at me nice and low, and I managed to empty my gun in its general direction without so much as ruffling a feather. I shouldn't have been surprised because I know I totally suck at the coming-straight-at-me shot, but it was demoralizing nonetheless.

Eventually, I recovered my composure and managed to bring down down two birds with really nice shots - one shot each, dead on the water, didn't know what hit 'em. No suffering. My Holy Grail.

By mid morning, all the jacklegs left, and the weather finally shifted. We felt a few poofs of breeze from the northwest, and in short order it was as if we'd been transported to a wind tunnel. Now things might get good!

I decided to move to where the chatterboxes had been and see how I might do there. This was the place I would learn my lesson about shooting in the wind.

After my ferociously stormy opening weekend hunt, all my more experienced duck hunting friends had advised me to substantially increase my lead - how far ahead of the bird I aim - when hunting in strong wind. This is because a strong wind can actually blow your shot off course.

Once that wind kicked up on Wednesday, I kept this thought at the forefront. Or so I thought.

Not long after I moved to my new spot, I saw a spoonie pair coming in on my right. They swung around in front of me at perfect range, giving me a pass shot, which I love. I aimed ahead of the drake, who was flying in front:


I waited for the Luke Skywalker moment when it felt like everything was perfect, then pulled the trigger.

Bam! Bird crumples. Dead on the water.

Only it was the hen in back who fell.

Now, there's nothing quite as disconcerting as shooting at one thing and seeing something several feet away from that object fall. It makes you question whether any bird you think you've killed was actually hit by your shot. Ever. Good lord!

This didn't stop me from being cocky, though. Seeing that the hen was dead, I took two more shots at the drake, hoping for a double. I missed him.

Then he circled back and started flying straight toward me, maybe 10 feet off the water, 20 yards away.

I raised my gun, but Dammit! Gun empty. Not enough time to reload.

Just as well. I always miss those shots anyway.

After that, I didn't manage to knock any more ducks out of the sky. I blew through all my shells, and even borrowed a few from a buddy. No use. I just couldn't wrap my mind around how big that lead needed to be.

Thank God the forecast tomorrow calls for much lighter wind. Boyfriend and I are taking out two new hunters for their very first duck hunt ever, and I'd hate to shoot like a jackleg in front of them.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Richard Mellott said...

Been there, done that. Now, I plan to return to the same area, and I'll be shooting some 2s that go 1700fps, and that may make up for some of my tracking ability, since it is a very fast shot. I'm going to use an almost open choke pattern, which will give me a good wide pattern at the ranges at which I have been shooting. Then, I will also look for a North wind, as the day I went out last week, we had a strong South wind, which seemed to scatter the birds, who didn't seem to want to stand still in the air... nor provide me with an opportunity to dust off some of the Adam Henrys around me, by accidently shooting over their heads. Ah, the fantasies abound, but reality is, it really limits what you can do. Be back to try again in January!
Duck hunt for newbies...have you no pity? Do they have waders, or will you be dragging them in a tule boat? Do they know it will be their initiation/hazing? I described the fun I had duck hunting, and they looked at me like I was obviously insane. True, I suppose.

Walter Bruning said...


Try Greenwing Teal in linear-fullbore-panic mode(to paraphrase Patrick McManu)with a 20 knot Nebraska freshening breeze on their butts. The last time I did that around 40 years ago I was swinging out in front at least 10-12 feet and still hitting the ones in the middle of the flock. Or, Bluebills on a northern Minnesota marsh that's the last one unfrozen as the front moves in. You are now a true-blue, loyal, sometimes-astonished duck shooter.

Happy New Year!


Walter Bruning said...

Oops--should have been McManus. I'm sure he would forgive me.

Josh said...

The hero of archery, Howard Hill, talked about taking aim on a head antelope in a herd running full-bore past him, and dropping the third or fourth one back!

I'm glad you are getting out so much... at least one of us is.
: )

Glen said...

The hunting gods are still angered with you I see..... :)

NorCal Cazadora said...

Richard - I think the newbies had a blast today! Cold as hell. It snowed on the way up I-5. But there was a good flight. And the Adam Henries have apparently departed.

Walter - always astonished! Like when the pintails whizzed by me at an unheard of 15 yards today while I was talking to one of the people we hunted with - no time to raise the gun. That's what I love about duck hunting - they beat us a LOT.

Josh, that makes me feel much better! Now, let's get your butt out into the field before all the refuges flood out.

Glen - the gods and I are on speaking terms again. I am allowed some really stellar shots, but I am forced to endure really long streaks of pathetic shooting between them. I'm hoping for unconditional release soon.

Josh said...

If you want to come along, we'll be hunting some flooding place very soon, in the canoe and/or kayaks. Don't let a little water thwart ye.

Charlie Meraz said...

Great post as always. I feel your pain. In fact, I have felt your pain many, many times. I stopped loading my gun with 3 shells, because me an my long time hunting buddy always called the 3rd shell the "damm you" shot!

I too have had to swallow my pride and ask my buddy to loan me some shells. Its less shameful than having to walk back to the truck to get more :)

By the way, I recently took my 16 year old daughter out to a friends ranch in Roseville where we shot clay targets. This was her first time shooting any kind of gun. I borrowed a friend's 20 gauge.
She discovered that shooting a target with a real gun, and not one on a video game is much harder than it looks!

I was her back up. She would say "pull" and fire and miss. I was glad to say I had not completely lost my skills. I was able to hit most of the targets she missed.

I am proud to say that by the end of 75+ rounds she actually managed to hit 6 on the fly!

I'm hoping that she will want to go again. She really enjoyed the time together and I did too.

You were my inspiration to set up this event and I thank you for that!

Have a great new year and leave a few duckies for me!

Charlie Meraz

Anonymous said...

The hunting gods require more laughter at your expense.

That's okay. At least you are getting out hunting. That's way better than I am doing.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Josh, I really want to try that this year. The tricky part is that my schedule is getting very packed right now. Twenty-seven days of the season left and I'm starting to panic about getting it all done. (Though, truth is, I've had the best season of my short hunting life, and if it stopped right now, I'd still be grateful for all the experiences I've had this season.)

Charlie, that's awesome! Though we usually shout, "And STAY AWAY!" after our failed third shots. I try to pull the trigger the third time only if I think I've hit the bird and am trying to do everything possible to bring it down.

And great to hear about your daughter! I hope those hits were enough to keep her wanting to do more. That sure is what keeps me going in duck hunting!

Jean, I think we're OK now. I started the day yesterday with my first band ever (hen mallard) and ended it with seven ducks and a Ross' goose. But I had to scrape to get that limit - it wasn't easy. Maybe that'll be my next blog post...

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SimplyOutdoors said...

When we're hunting, we all have moments when we're humbled.

As I've said before, I've never duck hunted, but I have shot skeet quite a few times, and I will always remember how bewildered I was when one of the "pros" told me that this particular shot required a four foot lead. Really?, I thought to myself.

Then I pulled the trigger, and that guy was right.

I'm sure the wind will calm down, and you'll put on a show for the newbies.

Good luck!