Monday, December 26, 2011

On sluicing ducks

It finally happened: I came home from a hunt with seven ducks last week, and while my shooting wasn't amazing, it felt like I'd gotten through my really bad case of the yips.

Now, I'd love to regale you with the details of some of my incredibly awesome shots that day - the wigeon I dropped so hard he bounced three feet off the water when he hit, the spoonie I nearly dropped into my lap - but that's not what this post is about.

This post is about two greenwing teal I shot on the water.

I'd started my morning at one of my favorite spots under a bright crescent moon and a sky littered with stars. In other words, it was going to be a clear and bright day.

Once shoot time arrived, the flight was really good - I heard gunshots all over the refuge, and while I missed a lot in that first hour, I did drop one duck, a hen wigeon.

Then the fog rolled in, and the shooting stopped abruptly. Ducks don't fly in the fog.

There was no telling how long this was going to last, so I made a decision: It was time for a walkabout.

The beauty of where I hunt on my refuge is that it's free roam. When you hunt "assigned blinds," you have to stay within 100 feet of a particular spot. If the ducks don't happen to want to be there that day, you're effed. But in free roam, you are free to go to the ducks, so long as you're not getting too close to other hunters.

On this morning, I knew there were likely to be some crippled ducks who'd been injured, but not killed, by some of the hunters. Wounded ducks like to hide in cover. My strategy would be to walk through the grass where they hide, look for cripples, and shoot them. More meat for my table, and the end of suffering for wounded animals.

Not 60 seconds into my walkabout, I saw a duck in the grass, head up and alert. I knew he saw me, but he wasn't going anyplace. Crip! I took stock of my surroundings, determined that the angle and direction of my shot wasn't going to intersect any nearby hunters, and shot the duck. He went belly-up.

As I walked toward him to pick him up, I saw another duck doing the same thing - he hadn't gotten up when I fired the first shot. Another crip! So I shot him. He got up and flew, then dropped, so I got him too.

I took both birds - drake greenwings - back to my tule patch, went to my car for more ammunition, then returned to my spot just as the fog was lifting and the shooting resumed all around me.

When I went home that afternoon and started plucking my birds, I was in for a surprise: Neither teal had a mark on him except for the shots I'd fired. No broken wings. No pellets to the breasts. Just the distinctive wounds caused by sluicing: shots that rake across the back.

They hadn't been wounded! So why had they just sat there? Maybe they hoped I couldn't see them. Maybe they didn't want to fly in the fog. Who knows?

My first thought upon making this little discovery was, "Good! These'll be great eaters." Shot holes in the breast don't make for great presentation on the plate. These would be perfect. And they were little fatties, too.

My next thought was that this discovery changed my shots from noble - putting ducks out of their misery - to "unsportsmanlike."

So here's the big question: If I'd known they weren't cripples, would I have shot them on the water anyway?

The answer is "Hell yes!"

Why? Let's start with the reason why many duck hunters would say, "Hell no!" Shooting a duck on the water - also known as "sluicing" or "water swatting" - is considered by some to be unsportsmanlike because the shot is too easy, and the bird doesn't have sufficient chance to elude the hunter.

Me? I don't care.

I hunt to put food on the table, not to impress anyone else with my tremendous wingshooting abilities. While I love making a good shot, and I'm proud of myself when I shoot well, that's just not what hunting's about for me.

But let's take a visual look at the core argument.

Is it sportsmanlike to shoot these ducks?

Of course. Classic shot. How about these:

Sure, as long as there are no hunters hiding in those tules in the background. And these:

That was a test. If that image doesn't make you nearly pee yourself with excitement, you are obviously not a duck hunter.

How about this one? His feet are about a centimeter off the water.

Yep, still flapping those wings. Totally sportsmanlike! And this one?

Ah yes, this is where we - or at least some of us - draw the line. It's that last centimeter that makes all the difference in the world, right?

Nope. I call bullshit.

Now, you don't have to shoot that duck. I really don't care. Choosing not to take a shot is never "wrong," regardless of the reason.

But I don't think it's "wrong" for me to take that shot either. And I flat-out don't believe that the sitting duck is the most vulnerable duck (and therefore the "easiest" to shoot) in this series of drawings. These ducks are:

Why? Neither these ducks nor the sitting duck know you're there, so all of them are vulnerable. They're all pretty easy shots because they've really slowed down, and the three on the left, while still moving, are coming straight at you. Stick the damn bead on a bird and pull the trigger.

But let's say you miss one of these shots (which, God help me, I've done way too many times), or you attract their attention and spook them before pulling the trigger. Now that the ducks are alerted, they're going to want to get the hell out of Dodge.

The sitting duck need only launch into the air, which he can do with astonishing speed. The landing ducks, on the other hand, must reverse course. They must stop their downward movement before they can start moving up and out. So, this is really the shot that's "too easy" and "unsportsmanlike," right?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

This is the problem with some of the ethical lines we hunters draw in the sand (or in the marsh, in this case). I believe our core concern should be making the cleanest kill possible with shots that won't lead to any unintentional wounding of other hunters or dogs who might be nearby.

I mean, do we really think the duck gives a damn whether we shot him on the water or when he was still a foot off the water? If he ain't dead yet, he's thinking, "Ow! Ow! Ow! I've gotta get out of here," not, "That unsportsmanlike bastard just shot me on the water!"

And I don't feel any less guilty for ending a bird's life when it's midair, as opposed to when it's on the water. I've killed it, either way.

Hunting is, at its core, tricking animals into making mistakes that cost them their lives. On the water or in the air, that duck you're shooting has been fooled into believing he's safe there. That means you've done the first part of your job well. Now it's time to shoot him - if you choose to.

But tell me readers: What do you think? What's your line in the sand? Why?

Let the comments begin!

P.S. While I love it when everyone agrees with me, I really want to hear about it if you disagree, because I want to hear WHY - challenging my position helps me see whether my arguments are on point, and it occasionally changes my mind. Really!

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


The Gang said...

Can't argue with that logic. I feel the same-more for the table!!! Now if only I was half the chef that you guys are....

Holly Heyser said...

LOL, I'm not half the chef Hank is.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

You know where I stand on these things, Holly. No surprise here. "I believe our core concern should be making the cleanest kill possible." Yep.

I'm not a waterfowler, so my perspective is somewhat different. But my last two deer have fallen to a centerfire rifle at 15 and 20 yards: near-instant death.

I know deer hunters who will, on occasion, shoot a grouse (legally) with their deer rifles. That's a sitting bird and a bullet to the head: a meal and an instant, ethical kill in my book.

I get the whole idea of being "sporting," but I don't buy into it, especially if it increases the chances of wounding.

Holly Heyser said...

A bullet to the head of a bird is actually a hell of a shot.

I'm still hoping someone can come along with an interesting or compelling argument against sluicing that I haven't heard yet.

I recently read an interesting and mildly compelling defense of catch-and-release fishing. Totally took me by surprise. But that'll be part of another blog post.

Peebs said...

You know where I stand on this if you get the bird on the water you did your part. I will sometimes jump them but only because in the water you have 1/3 of the bird to hit and 1/2 of that is very strong backbone with feathers to help deflect the shot, so unless I'm sure of a head shot I'll put them up. I will also let the front birds land and shoot the rear then get the front ones sitting on the water or taking off

Holly Heyser said...

I've definitely reached the conclusion that the birds need to be reasonably close for the sluice to work for exactly that reason - hard to hit vitals unless you get lucky and hit neck or head. Other benefit of being close is the steeper angle of your shot to water - I'm less worried about shot ricocheting off water and getting to a person or dog.

Love your strategy, Peebs. It's taking me a while, but I'm definitely incorporating more and more strategy into my hunts, thanks to you.

Chas S. Clifton said...

That's interesting about the cripples who were not.

As for sluicing, in my experience it is harder to get a clean kill that way than with the classic coming-in-to-the-decoys shot. I have see sluiced ducks too often that dived or paddled into the thick growth--without a dog to find them, they would have gotten away wounded.

I think it is just harder to hit a vital area when a duck is on the water.

If one must do it, then use #7 or #8 shot — which sizes are harder to find in steel than are larger sizes.

The old market hunters did it though, from what I understand -- punt guns and all that.

Holly Heyser said...

Yeah, I'm baffled by the uncrippled crips. Perhaps I missed something in the plucking, but I don't think so.

Agreed about the vitals. All my successful sluicings have been reasonably close - closer than I'd require to shoot them on the wing. Long-distance sluicing is a desperation measure that I'll reserve for shooting crippled divers - at that point, they're already wounded, so you really need to keep trying 'til they're belly-up.

As for getting into thick growth? Location, location, location. So many of my strategies and decisions are based on the particular place I hunt, which is generally very open, and a really good place to hunt without a dog.

Holly Heyser said...

And the market hunters - wasn't their particular trick to whistle or something to get all the bird to pop their heads up on high alert, better exposing neck and head?

hodgeman said...

I've been trying my hand at aerial gunnery (upland, not waterfowl) for the last year after a decade of head shooting them with a .22...mixed bag of results. I did take a couple of grouse with the .300 and a head shot- pretty pleased with that.

I gotta say- I prefer the .22 for clean kills and not riddling my table fare with bits of lead. Not really the thing for ducks but if sluicing them with a shotgun renders them to bag quicker and cleaner than jumping them or other methods, I'm all for it.

I'm a sportsman...but I'm a practical sportsman.

Holly Heyser said...

Hell, I'd hunt ducks Indian-style if I could: Carve out a pumpkin, put it on my head, go out in the water and make it look like a floating pumpkin, then grab the first curious duck that comes in to take a look. No meat damage there. No noise pollution either.

Anonymous said...

There is a word for shooting at game that presents an easy shot while hunting.

It's "dinner".

~Neil H

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

As much as I love to foment rebellion on other people's sites, I have to sit back and completely agree with you on this one. The entire notion of "fair chase" is at odds with the importance of a clean kill, and I'll take the easiest shot, every time.

Anonymous said...

Holly, I guess if you are able to get the birds to land in your decoys or sneak up on them you have completely fooled the bird, but it just seems totally against everything I've ever done as a waterfowler. I've never heard how the practice of shooting them in the air became the sporting thing to do, but I would guess it had more to do with not shooting up your decoys or as a matter of safety.

So is this sporting or ethical behavior? I think we all have some version of it in mind, and it usually falls in line with hunting and killing in the most humane manner. Clearly you were able to quickly kill these ducks by shooting them on the water, so does that alone make it ethical behavior? Sure, why not?

Do you do the same with quail? How about pheasants or grouse? How about a dove sitting on a wire (illegal in most states I think) or in a tree? These are all easier shots than the flying version and would result in a quick kill. Personally, I would love to sluice the chukars (little bastards) we chase around here in the mountains of Utah!. I don't shoot birds on the ground as a matter of safety, mainly because I'm hunting with dogs all the time. But after reading about your hunting exploits, I don't believe you guys hunt with your own dogs. So are you sluicing upland birds as well?

Thanks again for a very entertaining read.

burntloafer said...

Well... I will take a duck on the water if I really need the meat. Then again, most times I will not take it. There have been hunts where the 'kid' in the canoe gets to take a shot on the water, and I have no problems with that. For me, it is about balancing my want for meat with my respect for the critter.

Each shot is a choice. I also will not shoot a duck I don't have a chance in hell of retrieving. No dog? Shoot over the blocks, not the cat-tails.

As a former trapper, I found and killed a lot of ducks that were wounded by duck hunters. (But, I also found several deer with arrows in them, causing me to disrespect a few local bow-hunters. Another story...) I also found many ducks that were found first by raccoons or foxes.

I would rather take a sure shot than risk a shot over the cat-tails with no dog. Just me.

I trapped with a seriously old man that was a meat hunter in the days of punt guns - 1900 - 1920. He always swore that the canvasbacks were 'dumber than hell' as a species, and that you could slowly scull out to them, whistle, so they would lift their heads, then pull the string. (For anyone who doesn't know, 'punt' guns were 4 and 6 gauge deck-mounted shotguns designed to take as many birds on the water as possible.) His stories of hanging ducks on southbound trains bound for Chicago fascinated me... ...since his brother was a Warden.

Several times I have whistled at ducks sitting in my decoys (don't ask how they got there) and they almost always freeze and stare before flying off. I have to believe that the 'whistle' tactic would indeed work.

Holly, your points are well taken. I have a lot more respect for someone effectively killing a duck on the water than I do for the sky-blasters out there leaving a trailed of wounded birds.

Jill Carroll said...

I see your point and am coming around to practicing it even as I've hunted ducks and other birds all my life "on the wing" and not sitting (on water, wires, limbs, etc.). It's just the ethos I was raised with, so I still flinch a little inside when I take a shot at a duck on the water. But I totally see your point. And I agree with what someone said earlier about jumping the ducks on the water to expose more of the body for a higher kill percentage. I do that quite often unless I can get a straight on head shot at close range. The guys and I on my lease call the "on the water" shots a skillet shot - making the point about meat. I hunt to eat and to be a conscientious carnivore, and I have an ethical concern to make a clean kill, so.....I'll get over the flinch sooner or later.

Remi said...

I'm guilty of water swatting. My hunting partners are a missed bag - some are perfectly okay with it (as long as you don't hit the decoys) and others will mock me. Either way...I get a bird. To the mockers, it seems to be more of a machismo thing of hitting a sitting duck.

As for the birds sitting there and not being crippled...I came across this on my only bird of the season (long story). The hen spoonie spent about an hour tooling around the far edge of the decoys. My hunting partner even came back with the dogs and she still didn't get up! Finally, I shot her on the water. Upon retrieving her, she only had 1 wound -the kill shot to the head. Darnedest thing I've seen in my hunting career!

bostondeerhunter said...

I'm a terrible wingshooter so and I'm without dog so when goose hunting, I setup decoys on grass and call them in to land. I then sneak in and take them as they lift off. Not entirely a sitting goose but I don't want to blast my decoys.

My only hesitation with shooting at a duck on water would be the ricochet factor. I know buckshot shouldn't go that far but I'm unsure enough of the ballistics to try it.

Holly Heyser said...

Neil: "Dinner" sounds like a great new euphemism! :-)

Tamar: It's my only New Year's resolution to get you to disagree with me on something. If I go on a major anthropomorphizing rampage, will you argue with me?

This is why I love you. We were talking about you at Christmas dinner, how much we like you. My mom knew who you were from your comments here!

Softshell: You hit it right on the head there - this is a deeply ingrained ethic among wingshooters, so much so that I rarely talk about it unless I'm among friends because I know I'll be judged.

I get the feeling that this ethic arose a century or so ago as part of the "sportsman" ethic, as opposed to market hunting or pot hunting. Disdain for the "meat hunter" still runs high in some circles, though personally I think the non-hunting public now regards meat hunters more highly than sport hunters (and I'm using that in the old sense of the word - the guys who thought it was important to make the hunt more challenging, not the current understanding of the word - hunting for heads, not meat).

Among upland birds? I've sluiced a couple, but with the exception of doves, I usually don't see them on the ground. I've only shot at quail a couple times, and they've been in the air each time, but I have heard that mountain quail here will NOT flush until you whack one on the ground.

Shooting on a wire? No. But I read a hilarious story on a couple years ago - can't find it now - about a bunch of guys shooting doves on a wire from their PORCH. A warden comes calling, so they unload and ask the officer what's up. He says he notices them shooting birds on a powerline and tells them that's illegal. They tell him to look at the powerline - turns out it's nothing but a wire strung between two poles, just a big, elaborate dove decoy. LOVE that story.

Burntloafer: "Respect" is a good word choice, because I think we all feel that for the animals we hunt, and we all have our boundaries that determine when a kill is disrespectful.

If you look at it completely rationally, I think it's no less respectful to shoot on the water than it is to shoot on the wing, but we humans are, despite our best efforts - not terribly rational.

Jill: I don't think I flinch, but I do mentally look over my shoulder and wonder who's watching and what they'll think. And I love "skillet shot"!

Remi: When I hunt as a guest of other people, I try very hard to conform to their ethos. If it's the kind of club that will charge you $25 for shooting a hen, I extrapolate and assume that water swatting is also poorly regarded. But you never can tell.

I've seen head-shot birds like that too - they seem aware, but they're totally addled. Last year Hank shot a drake spoonie in the head, and my buddy Charlie and I were closest to it, so we went to get it. Charlie literally had that bird heeling. If he reached for it, the bird would dodge, but if he just kept walking, the bird would swim alongside him, just out of reach. Brain injury is a bizarre thing.

Boston: I think safety/damage concerns should always rule out a water or ground shot. Shooting decoys, shooting the dog, shooting other hunters - all no bueno.

And if I could get geese to land where I was hunting, I'd wait until three crossed each other and go for a triple. If I could wait that long.

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome a very new hunter and a brand new duck hunter (as in my first duck hunt was Christmas eve) it was confusing enough trying to discern ducks flying verses all other birds. I had the opportunity to hunt out of a duck blind in a rice field and we saw MANY different species of birds, ducks, geese etc. Everytime I excitedly said "there's a duck" my sweet patient also new duck hunter boyfriend would say "NO thats a seagull DONT SHOOT" , "no thats a crow DONT SHOOT" , "No thats a hawk DONT SHOOT", until finally a duck landed in our field and he said "shoot shoot shoot". Had it not been for the duck landing in the field I never would have had a chance to shoot because as a new hunter I could not tell the difference of what is flying in the air. I think it is like anything else there will always be two sides of the fence on this issue but for me I will take the shot when I am comfortable be it in the air or in the water. In the mean time I will do my best to further my knowledge on what a duck looks like in the sky so that I can comfotably take the shot in the air as well as in the field.

Jackson Landers said...

I have taken resident Canada geese on the water many times. The point of those hunts was to reduce the number of nuisance geese and the food was a nice bonus.

What I found is that it isn't as easy as people think. You have to stalk in on the birds very carefully, working the wind, and its a lot like deer hunting can be. The first shot can be very simple but then the whole flock is in motion and all of the subsequent birds on that jump will have to be taken in the air.

Everybody hunts their own hunt. This isn't a contest. I missed the part where the bird signed up for this. The important thing is to obey bag limits, to take the animal in a manner that is likely to kill it quickly, and to hunt in a manner that is safe to other human beings. As long as those 3 things are followed, we should be tolerant of other hunters' methods.

Holly Heyser said...

Anonymous: I'm glad to know you'll take shots when YOU are comfortable with them. I've found that we often urge new hunters to shoot in way too many situations that they're not comfortable with. I get it - you need lots of shooting to learn - but you shouldn't feel bad for not shooting either.

And Hank STILL gives me shit for the time I actually raised my gun on an incoming seagull, thinking it was a snow goose. During pretty much every single hunt, he'll say, "Don't shoot - it's a seagull!"

Jack, re this: "This isn't a contest. I missed the part where the bird signed up for this" - love it! That's both hilarious and true.

Chip W. said...

Hi, Holly

I think you're missing the conservation element here. Many "sporting" concerns developed as ways to limit the kill while still allowing people to enjoy time afield. It's much harder for most people to limit out if they only shoot at "sporting ducks," and if we all stick to that type of shooting, the overall kill falls without having to take people out of the field, preserving both the hunting experience and the resource. If gathering meat was really the only concern, the tactics of the market gunners you mentioned (punt guns, 4 gauges, 10-shot magazines, nets, etc.) would all be perfectly fine. Judging by history, though if they were all still in use, we'd have very few or no ducks left. If we all want to keep hunting and still have birds, we need some arbitrary limits on our tactics to limit our effectiveness and that's what most of our sporting ethics are about. Admittedly, your two teal shot on the water aren't going to tank the species, but I'm glad we don't have every duck hunter in the marsh doing it. Maybe you were just supposed to get five ducks that day, right?


Holly Heyser said...

Chip, funny you should mention that: When I got my sixth duck that day, I immediately started feeling sorry for myself that the hunt would soon be over. Of course, merely thinking that thought enraged the hunting gods, who proceeded to make me stay THREE MORE HOURS to get my seventh duck, so my enjoyment was prolonged anyway.

You are probably right that the arbitrary limits we set - the ones that go beyond limits set by law - can further conservation goals. I'm hedging because there is a school of thought that even some of the legal limits, like two hen mallards don't change the final result, which is that at the end of the year, the duck population will be at whatever the carrying capacity of the land is.

But I just don't believe that I need to limit myself further to save the species; I believe that limits in place already do that because they take into account sporting hunters like you, meat hunters like me, and even poachers.

I love hunting, and I love that hunting is an essential part of conservation. But in all honesty, I don't hunt to conserve; I hunt to eat, and I don't think that damages the future of hunting.

Mark Coleman said...

Legal vs ethical vs sporting ultimately boils down to personal comfort levels (assuming 'legal' is clearly defined) and it's good to see that we are generally respectful of each other's views.

I've sluiced birds that I wounded and never thought twice about it. On the other hand, I chased a grouse around a thicket once and never could get it to flush, and I passed on sluicing it. Just the mood I was in at the time I guess.

I wonder if deer had wings whether people would still shoot them on the ground? Turkey have wings, yet I've sluiced every single one of those I've ever killed. Funny how custom or tradition influence personal preference.

Brian said...

You answered the question I think.

Its not an ethical issue - the duck dies regardless and you made sure it was safe (probably one of the main reasons not to shoot at the water or ground when in a group).

Having said that I dont't, as a matter of course, shoot still birds. I like to try and take them flying as its more satisfying to me and I have always always thought it was the 'proper' way to shoot birds. Those are my constraints. I don't begrudge anyone who ground or water swats. Hell, I have taken a number of birds in my youth with a .22 - purists would do back flips at the thought! Lets also be honest about skill - a huge Canada hovering over a decoy at 20 yards aint hard to shoot, the skill is in getting them there! Hunters shouldn't shouldnt have to be a top shot to enjoy a day of hunting (but should still endevour to hone their skill as much as they can) but should match their shots to their skill - thats ethical.

As such I would MUCH rather see sluicing than sky busting birds way out of range of shooters gear and skills (the latter all to common).

Also, what Chip said. Technique and tool limits are most often means to limit kill rates and therefore are conservation measures. These constraints became institutionalised as the norm. Of course norms are also an important part of hunting culture. If I was invited to a shoot where ground shooting was forbidden or frowned upon I would never do it as it would be offensive to the shoot organisers and ensure my future exclusion.

Holly Heyser said...

I'm totally fine with norms, especially if people recognize the difference between norms and laws. Following a norm is a choice; following a law is not - you just do it.

Also, totally agreed on following norms where you're an invited guest - I think that's an entirely appropriate "compromise."

Hell, I always try to respect it when my hosts don't want me to shoot spoonies, though I think spoonies get an undeservedly bad rap. If it's a point of pride for someone that no spoonie has ever been shot in her club, far be it from me to meddle in that record.

Interestingly, I usually ask about spoonies, but I always assume hosts will frown on sluicing, unless I get some hint that's not the case.

That tells me there's a social class issue here too: If you're rich enough to own a piece of a swank club, I assume your standards are going to be far more refined than mine, if for no other reason than you have the luxury of being able to be picky; I, as a refuge hunter, do not.

Holly Heyser said...

Belatedly: Mark, I've heard there are regions - not sure where - where it's considered totally unsporting to shoot turkeys on the ground, where it's the norm to shoot them on the wing.

Sluicing a turkey - much like sluicing a duck - can keep most of the meat in pretty good shape, which is one thing I like about it when I sluice successfully.

If we could get only one duck a day, I suppose we could build a culture of sluicing ducks with a full-choke shot to the head and everyone would be fine with it. But it's an impractical way to do the high-volume, multiple-hunter shooting that's possible with ducks.

Peebs said...

A couple of points first Softshell decoy the California guide to quail hunting use to recommend that if you catch a covey of quail on the groud shoot one (or more) then hunt down the busted flock, I will add that you should never take more than 1/5 of a covy. Don't know if it is still there haven't looked at the guide in years. The other is Holly you should know why the teal stayed and let you get close it's the same reason I go on walkabout when it's foggy(other that I can't stand to hunt in fog) the birds don't like to fly low in fog a tree a building can really mess up a nice day, haven't seen it for a couple years but have had flock of hundreds of geese sit in the fog and let hunters take limits and only fly a few yards max. You can force them up if you really push them but if you stay outside the flock and keep your shooting to as little as possible many hunters can get limits. If you think about it Holly the day we took the walk in the fog we kept getting close to a lot of ducks.

Gary Thompson said...

I've got a few buddies that water swat birds when we hunt. I'm cool with it. They typically only get out once in a great while so coming home with something is part of the gig. I can't say I take a position on either side of this subject, but I do enjoy hammering ducks out of the sky, and since there is a limit to how many I can shoot, I guess I prefer to shoot them on the wing.

Now I know I have to get you and Hank out for a Blue Grouse hunt. When I miss them off the flush, you can shoot them out of the trees while they're sitting up there laughing at me. That'll teach those bastards to hang around.

Holly Heyser said...

Peebs, that would be really disconcerting to see a big flock of geese choose to get shot on the water over risking flying in the fog. But it makes sense.

Gary: Oh hell yes, we'd take that shot!

QB Doctor said...

Holly, Chip's right - the story we tell ourselves about why we do certain things isn't really the same as why we do them. Cultural norms are emergent & precede legal norms - so sometimes the story we tell ourselves doesn't really make sense.


Eric C. Nuse said...

The problem I see with the "it is all about the meat" in hunting is where it can lead. Why not legalize punt or batter guns, they are a very efficient way to water swat ducks, enact a season limit so you can gather up say 60 ducks with a few discharges on a nice still moon lite night and call it a season?
True there can be high numbers of wounded ducks, but you could focus on smaller flocks or concentrate them over bait.
I think you see where I am going. Is there any thing wrong with the way you took the two teal. I'd say it is a personal choice. It is legal, it was safe and it was a clean kill. It sounds like the sporting aspect even in your mind makes it suspect. You are right that the duck doesn't care how it dies, but we as hunters do. The method is the bases of sportsmanship and thus fair chase. Self limiting methods is one way to extend the seasons, make us work harder for the kill and force us to practice self discipline in the shots we take. All of this builds character and when the kill happens makes the eating all the sweeter.

Holly Heyser said...

QB Doctor, it seems like there are a lot of different ways I could interpret what you're saying, so I'm going to pass on that rather than flail.

But Eric: Seriously? OK, if you want to slide down that slippery slope, let's do it: Let's say we have a 60 duck per hunter per season limit. Let's not be silly about it and allow means that are likely to increase wounding, but let's say you can hunt rice under a full moon with the plug pulled out of your shotgun, but you get 60 per season and that's it.

Awesome: Your conservation goals have been met! And no one HAS to hunt that way. You can keep hunting the way you want, passing on shots that seem too easy (though really, I think sporting folk need to also abstain from shooting ducks that are about to land in decoys, and probably stick to 40-yard pass shots). You can make your season last all 100 days, and whoever wants to hunt on a full moon can end theirs in one night.

Finally: Eric, I work my ass off when I hunt ducks. I don't have money. I don't belong to a club where I can count on flock after flock of mallards lining up to give me a lap dance every hunt day. I hunt public land where I often have to drive up the night before to enter myself in the lottery and hope I get a decent draw, then drive back in the morning, get my entry permit (if I get in), hustle (on foot, not ATV) to get my spot, compete with lots of hunters in a small area (which means birds almost never "work"), and fetch all my own ducks because I don't have a dog, and it's actually harder to hunt with a dog where I hunt.

As a result of learning to hunt ducks in this fashion, I actually find it disorienting to hunt in those nice clubs where we ride ATVs to the water, walk on underwater gravel to the blind and have an immaculate lab do all the fetching. If I haven't worked up a sweat, I feel like something's wrong with the hunt.

That's my hardship. That's my challenge. That's what builds my character. And that's what makes my ducks taste awesome (though killing 'em in rice country and having Hank do most of the cooking rates right up there too).

If I won the lottery and bought a piece of one of those awesome clubs, I'd probably come up with all kinds of ways to limit myself because it would seem obscene killing seven mallards every hunt day without breaking a sweat.

But my hunts are hard enough right now. Passing on a killable bird, or just flushing it so I can feel better shooting it a foot off the water instead of on the water (thereby ensuring that its last emotions are panic, rather than just bam), seems ridiculous.

Phillip said...

Sort of a silly argument all around. If you're meat hunting, then anything goes. If you're wingshooting, then, by necessity, you should shoot on the wing.

Personally, the reason I hunt ducks, doves, and upland birds is because I enjoy the challenge of the flying target. I'm not above ground sluicing, or popping a dove off a limb to break a slow streak, but I don't find either method particularly gratifying. But that's me.

If safety is considered (a big reason not to ground sluice, especially on water... as Allison and I witnessed at Grizzly Island the other day) and it makes the hunter happy... go for it.

As a qualitative argument, wingshooting vs ground slucing is absolutely no different from shooting big game over bait, or hunting high fence.

Holly Heyser said...

I love the challenge of a flying target too, and it's clearly far more satisfying when you shoot a flying target well.

But if all I wanted was the satisfaction of shooting well at complicated targets, I would shoot sporting clays or play video games. I hunt ducks because I like eating ducks (I'm eating one right now), and the extreme satisfaction of good wingshooting is a bonus. Together, they make the experience what it is for me, but not so much that I need to make a bird fly so I can enjoy shooting it more. It just so happens that flying is how I'm going to take them 95 percent of the time.

Having been watching a lot of sci-fi lately, I can't help but think of what would make a better "the-tables-are-turned" movie (think "Predator" or "Planet of the Apes"): a movie about humans being hunted for meat (bam, you're dead, you're dinner), or a movie in which the human hunters above all valued humans who ran and jumped and made the hunt really sporting, so much so that they'd goad passive humans into doing those things rather than just shoot them. I'm pretty sure I know which one Hollywood would choose.

On your comparison to bait and high fence, I don't know that I can argue with that (much as I love to argue with you). Probably the only difference is that sluicing is a shot of opportunity for me on a hunt in which wingshooting will be the norm, not a modus operandi for all of my duck hunting.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I take the "eyeball approach" to ground sluicing. If you can see their eyeball, go for it. If not, they're too far, and you'll just cripple 'em. Pretty much the same for wingshooting, come to think of it.

As for whether sluicing is unfair, I don't think so.

If my spread is so nice and I'm concealed so well and a bird decides to land in front of my face, in my mind, I've outhunted all the sky-busting gomers.

oldfatslow said...

I have no problem
shooting ducks on the
water. If I've gotten
them into land, I've
done my job. The only
drawback is the number
of collateral damage
decoys my kids and
I have killed. Some
of my coot decoys rattle
like castanets. To avoid
this, I'll try and flush
ducks if they land in the
dekes. If they won't
flush, there's always
foam to refill the decoys.


Holly Heyser said...

Ryan: Words of wisdom, for sure, for both water and sky shots!

OFS: I nearly perforated some decoys on Wednesday, and believe it or not, it wasn't sluicing: A duck was coming in for a landing and the first safe shot I had, where I wouldn't be shooting Hank or our friend David, was when he was a foot off the ground. He dropped, got up a foot, and I dropped him again for good. There were a LOT of decoys in the background, but woot! - I missed all of 'em.

Anonymous said...

... and she maketh the decoys the most holey...


Holly Heyser said...

Well-played, Jean!

Anonymous said...


i think given the opertunity people should jump on the chance to get meat without eating a bunch of shot.

i always say that if god didnt want us to swat a duck he wouldnt make them land.

i agree with everything on here.if it were for survival and to ubtain meat wouldnt you swat one even if it was against your hunting ethics.


Phil Robertson said while giving a speech in AR last year, "ever hear any make a comment while looking at a picture of a dead duck and say...I wonder if it was flying or sitting on the water? .....Nope."