Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My first duck hunt of the season back at Delevan: Why five amazing accomplishments weren't enough

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At least five amazing things happened on my first duck hunt of the season back at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday.

1.  I discovered my new workout routine – going up and down stairs in a six-story parking garage a few days a week – turned out to be great preparation for walking through ankle- to hip-deep water in waders. I’m usually sore after my first rigorous duck hunt; this time I’m not.

2. After five years of duck hunting, a first: I managed to take a leak in standing water. Guys do this all the time, but it’s a lot harder for women because we have to pull our waders all the way down and squat. I figured out how to do it without getting the inside of my waders wet. I tell you, it was a freakin’ miracle.

3. My calling didn’t suck. I got lots of ducks and even specklebelly geese to make mid-air U-turns and head back my way. I know it’s much easier to call birds earlier in the season than it is later, but it’s still gratifying when they respond like that.

4. On a windless sunny day – the kiss of death to good duck hunting – I successfully used my jerk rig to attract ducks’ attention from great distances. I’ve had the rig for a while, but this was the first time I could see that this was THE reason they were coming in.

Now, dear readers, did you notice anything missing from this list? Yep, you got it: Good shooting. That’s what was missing.

I missed and missed and missed and missed and missed. I may have gone through nearly a whole box of shells before I got my first duck of the season – a drake spoonie – and while I managed to bring in a couple more, I should’ve had a double limit for the amount of shells I went through.

It was easily my worst day of shooting in three or four years.

But this leads to the fifth amazing accomplishment of the hunt: I managed to keep a good attitude throughout most of the shooting debacle.

This is huge for me. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a bad habit of sulking – if not getting outright pissed off – when I don’t do well. I’m not proud of it; that’s just the way it is.

But duck hunting, more than anything else, has shown me vividly that bad attitude poisons your chance of turning things around.

So on Sunday, I smiled a lot, told my buddy Charlie how happy I was to be back at Delevan, and cracked jokes about what I must’ve done to incur the wrath of the hunting gods this time. I’m pretty sure it was the Stinky Butt Gadwall post, in which I wrote that I was going to be more selective about the ducks I shoot – a sure-fire way to anger the hunting gods, making them wreck your shooting until you give in and humbly take spoonies.

Which I did.

Keep your spirits up, and soon you’ll get the amazing shot that will turn things around, I kept telling myself.

It lasted right up to the last five or ten minutes, which is when I realized I wasn’t going to get that shot. That meant I’d be going into my next hunt in fear of continuing the streak.

Fear is bad. Huge risk of self-fulfilling prophecy. Crap.

So for the next few days, I’ll be trying to figure out what went wrong.

Maybe the adjustable comb on my stock was out of proper alignment? I’ve already adjusted it.

Maybe I was lifting my head off the stock? I’ll practice gun mounts in the mirror, re-imprinting on my memory the feeling of my cheekbone pressed hard onto that stock.

Maybe I’m overthinking my shots? The only cure for that is a surprise shot – something that forces you to shoot without thinking. I kept hoping for that on Sunday, but I didn’t get it.

Or maybe I just need to get my mind right about it. Maybe my five amazing accomplishments actually were enough. Maybe this is just one of those periodic cosmic reminders to be grateful for what I have.

I can live with that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Josh said...

Somethin' about a bad day hunting and a good day at work might apply here... but, it sounds like you didn't have a bad day at all. Just a light-in-the-bag day.

Welcome to my world.
: )

How was Kevin?

Holly Heyser said...

It wasn't the light bag that bothered me - it was the fact that I shot so badly. I really hate that.

We split up - Kevin and Ryan in one patch, me and Charlie in another, so I didn't hunt right next to him (it's just not good having four people in one patch). But I think they both did better than I did.

Phillip said...

Every day is different. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes... well, obviously not so much. Only thing for sure is, whether it's good or bad, it'll be over soon and another day before you know it.

Learn from each one as it goes by.

GreatWhiteHunter said...

Great blog. Just been introduced to it.

Everyone hates to shoot badly but the worst one can do is think and fret over it.

I am, personally, terrible at taking advice but the best I have ever heard is this. Lifting your head off the stock, even ever so slightly can bugger it up. We all do it either because we want to see the bird get hit or because we are over confident. Hope that helps!


Holly Heyser said...

Phillip: True dat! That's what I tell my students about finals.

GWH: Thanks! My big clue that I might be lifting off the stock was when Charlie said he saw my gun jerk just before I shot once. I didn't remember adjusting to follow the bird, so I think that may have been a function of my head lifting.

It's times like this when I really wish I had a gun-cam or hat-cam. Not to video myself trying to outshoot Tom Knapp, but just to analyze what went wrong.

Kirk Mantay said...

Ditto with the head movement. I am most likely to make a stone-dead shot when the stock is so buried in my check that, were it a rifle, I'd lose teeth.

My worst misses - getting excited and not aligning my head with the gun.

Practice handicap shots on 5-stand or skeet. It'll help.

Kirk Mantay said...

cheek, not check

Shewee woman said...

Well you know what I am going to comment about........
Try the Shewee and you will be wizzzzing away in standing water, off the side of a boat or out the side of your blind. Such resistance..... I don't understand. The Shewee is, well, just damn empowering, I don't know how else to describe it.
Anyway, glad you had a great first day even though you didn't shoot so well. Always fun reading your blog.

Holly Heyser said...

I knew that was coming. I just can't pee standing up. It just doesn't work. I know other people do it. I'll give it another try again. :-). In the shower.

Holly Heyser said...

And oh, River Mud: Tried responding to you with my Droid phone THREE TIMES yesterday and it never took. But here's what I said:

On one shot Sunday, I got excited AND lost balance at the same time and I think I thunked myself in the head with my gun. Needless to say that one was a miss.

No skeet now, though - it's all ducks all the time. Mirror practice!

spotted face said...

"Keep your spirits up, and soon you’ll get the amazing shot that will turn things around." - Good advice, but guess what has worked for me lately? A real bloodthirsty attitude. When things don't seem to be right, a sense of determination and knowing that that duck is gonna die has done wonders.

I'll bet it gets my head down better, really.

Looks like you're on the right track with all these helpful comments, and I'll be applying them to my own shooting. Thanks for starting the discussion!

Holly Heyser said...

I think I'm actually starting to feel confident again. Not that I want that to be famous last words; it's just that I'm taking a lot of steps that all have the potential to help. And I'm keeping my head up - figuratively speaking, not on the gun.

Anonymous said...

You need to tell Josh it was a great day hunting and a very bad day shooting. Now you need to come see me and find out what is going on.


Holly Heyser said...

Harv, I'm gonna put on my big-girl pants and try to work through this on my own.

Besides, it's DUCK SEASON! It's all ducks, all the time now. I probably won't be at the Cordova Shooting Center until February.

Mike said...

Every thought about throwing one of these female funnels in your blind bag?

Love the blog, thanks!

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Mike! And yes, I've actually tried the SheWee, but like said to SheWee Woman, I can't override my potty training to pee standing up. But I keep promising to try again :-)

Peebs said...

When Holly got Sara I got her to shoot the 3in 11/8 oz shot this stuff gets to the bird fast she ie in the process of switching to a new shot that is one of the most effective I've ever seen but is slower rule #1 never switch shells it will screw up your shooting. Of course she won't tell you that, when she gets that snap shot the old head computer will lock in.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Your skill, your persistence, your attitude, and the engaging way you write about all of it make me a die-hard fan.

But damn. You can pee in standing water in waders. I'm in awe.

Holly Heyser said...

Peebs, I'm hoping for that snap tomorrow! I hate wasting good ammo.

Tamar: Thank you for fully appreciating that. The trick was that it had to be pretty shallow - about to the top of my boots. It helped that the area we were hunting was deserted because the place where I found water that shallow didn't have 360 degrees of cover around it.

Eric C. Nuse said...

I've had problems hitting when I have to much time to shoot. I notice it the most on those lone incomers and tower targets on sporting clays and decoying ducks and geese. I found if I wait on the mount until just before i commit to shoot and then aggressively mount while swinging and shoot I do much better.
You are right - thinking screws up wing shooting every time!

Holly Heyser said...

That's a good idea, pretending I'm not committed to shoot the bird. I'm going to try that for sure.

I had a much better shoot on Saturday - killed first bird I shot at with one shot, and got more four - but I was back to mediocre shooting yesterday.

Saturday I was a guest at a primo club; yesterday I was at a public refuge. Guess I like easier shooting :-)