Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oh no, I'm one of THEM

There's a big debate going on in the Duck Hunting Chat right now about "skybusters" - the folks who shoot at birds way too far away to have a reasonable chance at hitting them. The experienced hunters grouse about it - rightfully - because it 1) educates ducks, making them less likely to fly in closer to our blinds, and 2) results in more cripples because of the low likelihood of getting a clean shot.

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the people they're complaining about. I try not to be, but I know I take stupid shots from time to time, because I'm just inexperienced. And I feel like crap about it.

I am at war with myself over this.

All the veterans and all the teachers say Practice! You have no business hunting until you know what you're doing. The words of my hunter safety instructor still ring in my ears: Clean, sportsmanlike kill! Clean, sportsmanlike kill!

And during the off season, I do practice at the local shooting range, where I shoot pretty darn well. I mean, I've had a cluster of guys gawking as I've made some badass shots, over and over again. (Wow, that felt really good, too - I admit it!)

But the range is not the marsh. The range is secure and predictable. In the marsh, you've got bad footing, the adrenaline rush and birds that have the ability to change directions on a dime, unlike those bright orange clays. As much as I'd like to think I can perfect my skills at the range, I've come to believe the only way I can learn to shoot at ducks in the marsh is to shoot at ducks in the marsh. And for me and probably any other new hunter, that means taking a lot of bad shots. I don't see any way around it.

I used to think that I should just be perfect at anything I try, right out of the gate, but I know better now. It's not just because of the wisdom that comes with age (lord, you couldn't pay me to be 20 again!), but because I teach journalism for a living these days. I've learned the only way my students can learn to write good stories is by first writing bad ones, then learning how to correct their particular mistakes, and compensate for their particular flaws.

But their weapons are notepads and computers, not guns. Their mistakes don't result in a wounded animal suffering in the tules until the scavengers come to finish the job they started. So even as I console myself with the wisdom that all learning flows from making mistakes, I'm wracked with guilt about it.

This is all part of a normal cycle, I'm sure: The veterans criticize the newbies for making mistakes until the newbies are good enough to be considered veterans, so they can start complaining about all the mistakes the newbies are making. All I can say is I can't wait until I'm not a newby anymore. It's one of the reasons I hunt as much as I can right now - I want to get through this phase as quickly as possible.

I just hope when I'm a veteran, I remember to have a little patience with those who come after me.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

The guy i go to for writing lessons has two neat sayings
"you wanna be a writer? Write!"
And my favourite
'Great work isn't written, it's re-written!"

Holly Heyser said...

So true!

I think my mind was polluted by all those kids movies about prodigies who had practically magical powers the first time they tried X, Y or Z. I still have to remind myself it doesn't work that way.

Anonymous said...

Crap... I lost my five page comment.

Oh well, better for all.

Holly, you're aware of the issue (skybusting) and you're working on it. That's all anyone can ask.

Odds are, you're probably not as bad at it as you think. But being conscious of it is a good thing. Learning to approximate range is tricky stuff, especially in the marsh.

When it comes down to it, every waterfowl hunter stretches reality now and again with shots taken out of desperation, frustration, or just out of boredom. No matter how long they've been hunting, it's gonna happen now and again.

By the way, one good tip is to set the outside of your decoy spread at 40 yards from your blind. Imagine a dome extending around and overhead from that distance, and there's your effective shotgun range. If a bird flies inside the dome, shoot it.

Windyridge said...

Hunting is on the decline and shame on veteran hunters for making newbies feel anything but very welcome. Don't feel guilty, you are doing your best. I know it's easy to say and when i shot my first turkey I didn't kill her right away and had to take another shot with her looking right at me. It was hard but I figure if one is going to hunt, each shot will not be perfect right away. I would venture to say that many veteran hunters may have a bad shot now and then throughout their hunting careers.