Monday, November 7, 2011

I am dumb, and other lessons from the marsh

Me, not looking at ducks
Now that I'm in my sixth season of duck hunting, I've developed this tendency to think I've got it down, like I'm the grande dame of waterfowling or something.

On Sunday, though, I got a big, fat reminder that I still have a lot to learn.

My buddy Charlie and I were hunting at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, and it was not a great day. We were not on the "X" that morning, and it was growing more sunny and still by the hour - the kiss of death for good duck hunting. Before long, the flight had petered out so much that most hunters had abandoned the marsh.

Not me and Charlie, though. We are insane.

After watching birds carefully avoid our decoy spread, we decided it was time to abandon the dekes, so we moved to an area the birds seemed to be flying over a bit more, taking nothing but our seats, our guns and our calls.

A couple birds came near me, and while they weren't as close as I like, I was feeling desperate, so I wasted a couple shots on them.

"That was dumb!" I yelled to Charlie as the ducks zoomed away unharmed.

Then a big group of wigeon flew over Charlie's tule patch and he knocked down two of them. I charged over to help find the one that wasn't DOA, and after we'd recovered both birds, we decided I should just stay there.

It wasn't too long before a trio of mallards appeared in our airspace. We started calling to them furiously, and they started circling our tule patch counterclockwise.



On the third circle, I knew they were getting close, and I hid my eyes under the brim of my hat, cranking my eyeballs as far to the right as I could so I would see when they'd be close enough.

Bam! Duck down.

But I hadn't shot. They hadn't come into my field of vision yet. It was Charlie's bird.

I fired two shots at one of the two ducks making a hasty retreat, missed, and got grumpy.

When Charlie got back into the patch with his duck, I worked through my failure out loud.

"I always worry about flaring them with the glare off of my glasses," I told Charlie.

"Someone told my my sunglasses were doing that once, but I  just don't believe it," he said. He has a point. If the sun is hitting water, you can be guaranteed that light is flashing off of it somewhere.

I moved onto my next excuse.

"I worry about flaring them by moving my head too much," I told him. I've always been told that the best camouflage is holding still, so I always try to hold my body and head still, and I miss out on a lot of shots because the ducks are too far away by the time they re-enter my field of vision.

"You notice how I am constantly moving and keeping my eyes on the ducks?" Charlie asked.

It's true. When ducks are working, he is off his seat, crouching, and rotating on his feet, keeping his eyes and body facing toward the birds.

"Yeah, but I don't want to flare them."

"Well," he said, "it doesn't do any good to call them in if you're not facing the right direction when they're close enough to shoot."

Oh. So that's how it is? You mean, you're telling me that 2 + 2 actually does equal 4?

Yeah, it was that obvious. Duh. Charlie rotates to keep facing the birds. Charlie is a way more successful duck hunter than I am. Therefore, rotating can't be a bad tactic. He probably flares some, but he's also getting ducks I would never get.

I never got another chance Sunday to mend my stupidity and try it out - we didn't get any more ducks circling us.

But hey, there are 83 days left in the 2011-12 duck season here. And plenty more time than that to become the grande dame of waterfowling. Check back with me in a couple decades on that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Rich Mellott said...

I'm cut of the same cloth, another who keeps thinking I have it down, only to discover I've bought an expensive tule seat that doesn't work, losing a decoy bag as a dog jumps out of a boat, and realizing I've been hunting and shooting at ducks with my Improved Cylinder choke, instead of the modified I thought I was using. Then, I bought the rounds with 1-1/8 oz of shot, when I should have tried for heavier loads, and it all comes up big zeros on the scorecard. Oh, well, I'll be at Los Banos this weekend, with the right choke in place, and with some heavi shot that has 1/4oz more shot in it. I'll also stop missing the ducks on the water, since I found I was not getting down on the gun, and maybe I'll have a chance of duck soup. In the meantime, I feel your pain! And Charlie kicked my butt, when I hunted with him last season, I want to see if he can still outwalk me in waders. I been practicing!

River Mud said...

Like anything, there's a happy medium, Holly. You'll find it. One way to find that you've gone too far will be to keep your head up (fully up) and/or walk around in the marsh as birds are working. Especially if it's NOT sunny.

I was picking up decoys on a hunt about 10 years ago and look across the marsh at my brother's position. All I could see of him was bright pink - the lower half of his face and his hands out of his gloves. That was scary - that our skin is THAT visible. To us. From 100 yards away.

But at some point, yeah, you gotta look at the birds to size up their flight pattern and make a quick plan as to how you'll shoot 'em.

Give it time.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Rich: I don't think your choke or shot choices make that much of a difference at this stage. If you want to take longer shots, use the tighter choke. But if you like to get 'em close, use the more open choke. The reality is that if you're on the bird, you're going to hit it, regardless of shot or choke.

As for walking in water: My new workout regimen is gold. I climb up and down the stairs of a six-story parking garage at school for about 30 minutes (that's four complete flights, criss-crossing the garage between them). It's working really well for me.

And water shots: Aim a little in front of the bird - that usually helps.

River Mud: I worry constantly about my hands and face. I will probably break out the face paint when I try that rotation. When Charlie does it, he's not looking straight up - he's got the birds right under the rim of his hat.

The cool thing is that I actually like having to learn new things all the time. It's really good for the brain.

oldfatslow said...

The ducks always come
from the direction you're
not looking. So, look that


NorCal Cazadora said...

OFS, I do that a lot. Whenever there's a really impressive goose flight in the stratosphere, I always look down because I know that's when those wily ducks will sneak up on you.

Peebs said...

If possible I always move with the birds if your watchen them you can see when they look at you(for me it also helps me calling the birds display little body movements that indicate what they are going to do) This group I think I actually turned around twice. The first passes were to far out to worry about shooting position but we had these birds on a string and I knew that the pass I shot on was going to be the right one and told Holly next pass. When they were @ 30yds out and 30 high I went up glanced at Holly to make sure I wasn't going to block her shot and saw she was back to birds I was going to drop back but the Greenhead had seen me was in full flare so I shot I was going to hit the other drake but my first shot had not killed the first so I didn't. We discussed all of this after running down my bird we even talked about our calling together how to interlock it so that the birds don't have a chance to break. One of the reasons I like hunting with her is her ability to learn and her attitude about wanting to learn. Also she didn't mention the toad greenhead she got or the toad hunter that set up in our decoys and called so much that we wanted to scream at him but that is grandcentral.

Tox said...

Good luck!

In theory, waders that fit just arrived in the mail. Hoping to make it out to Delevan this season to try hunting for the first time.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Peebs: Yeah that toad hunter got on my nerves - especially because he kept getting ducks!

I can't wait to try this tactic next time I get to Delevan. But you know I'll be putting on face paint to do it.

Tox: Thanks! If you make it out to Delevan, will it be your first hunt ever, or your first duck hunt?

Tox said...

First hunt ever - starting at 40. (Hunting at least; I'm not counting the hulicat foragesf trip where I met you and Hank - that was my first time fishing as an adult). Wanting to learn how to fill my freezer and cook game. Hoping to pick your brain sometime about different outfitters and such for pig (bison?) hunts too.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Cool! And pick away :-)

Chas Clifton said...

I went to a duck hunting seminar last night with a state wildlife biologist who is a duck fanatic.

He is big on mesh face masks, illustrating his talk with photos taken from the air when doing duck surveys from the air -- hunters' faces, blinds that don't blend in, etc.

Also big on sitting on a submerged stool in the water while wearing chest waders, of cours.e

NorCal Cazadora said...

I've always wanted to put a drone in the air on a hunt day to see what we look like. It'd probably get damaged by some skybuster, though.

I already wear chest waders and sit on a submerged stool, but I hate maskes, unless it gets cold. I'd much rather paint my face, bad as it is for the complexion.

Peebs said...

I used the face mask for years and I even proved that it works wearing one and not, but cant stand having it on.

michael said...

keep the good wor my friend

best regards

Galen Geer said...

Holly, The only thing I've learned about duck hunting is that I don't know as much as I think I know and I don't know what I don't know so I am always to learn something.
My brother told me that thirty years ago and it is still true!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Galen: Well, good thing I like learning...

CoCo said...

Im glad that Im not the only one who rotates!! My husband is always getting on to me and saying that I move too much but where we hunt (Alabama's Gulf Coast- Upper Delta Mangagement Area) we are often in the woods and there is a canopy, a thin one but none the less there is one.

NorCal Cazadora said...

I've had a chance to try this since writing this post, and while I didn't always get a duck, I don't think it ever flared one. So I say if it doesn't flare, who cares?