By Brent Birch, contributing editor
If you aren’t a duck hunter, I’ve got great news: the ducks and the waterfowling community need you.
On the surface, making the leap may sound daunting. But it’s really not. There are so many ways to enjoy the sport of waterfowling without having to be a technical expert in how to place decoys, call ducks, or even shoot for that matter. Here are a few tips that will hopefully get you to jump in:
LOOKING THE PART
Tip number one: you don’t have to run out and get all the latest and greatest gear. In fact, you don’t need any new gear at all. While some people subscribe to the theory “if you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly,” there are no gear requirements for duck hunting. Rest assured, there are wide ranges of quality and prices of apparel, guns, dogs and the like. But there isn’t anything on this website or any other that you need to start hunting ducks.
FIND A MENTOR
Duck hunting is a challenging endeavor to take on without someone showing you the ropes. Oftentimes, someone deciding to get into hunting that didn’t grow up doing it has a buddy or group of buddies to link up with and learn. Don’t be too prideful to acknowledge what you don’t know. Soak up as much information as you can from folks with experience.
There are so many nuances and challenges that even lifelong duck hunters struggle, that’s especially true chasing a bounty that lives and breeds in one place, migrates through others, and ends up wintering somewhere else altogether. Deer and turkey, for example, pretty much live in the same area you hunt them year round. Fish are in the same lake all year round. Ducks are not. These flying vagabonds can be here one day and gone the next for a whole myriad of reasons. Learning the playbook from a more experienced hunter/mentor can make your days in the field much less frustrating.
Another reason to hunt with experienced waterfowlers: safety. Every duck season that goes by produces very dangerous situations, from brutally tough weather to accidents involving boats, ATVs, and shotguns. Even veteran hunters find themselves in sticky situations that can go awry in a bad way. Inexperienced hunters are even more at risk.
I personally witnessed one in the famed Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area while on a ride along with an Arkansas wildlife officer. A group from Georgia, who had overloaded their boat with people and gear, sunk it in the main channel. These gentlemen had to cling to scrubby, small trees growing at the edges of the channel to avoid ending up at the bottom as they all had on waders that had taken on water. Even worse, this was the last day of the season when afternoon hunting was allowed. Luckily one last boat came through before dark and rescued them. Their chances of surviving overnight were very low and luck was on their side.
BOOKING A GUIDE
Hunting with a reputable outfitter is also an option, especially if you are traveling outside your familiar area. But do your homework as stories abound of frustrated hunters thinking they had the trip of a lifetime booked only to be disappointed in an unscrupulous guide.
There are plenty out there that do it right. Referrals and reviews go a long way, just like anything else. The best places rarely beg for customers on social media with the overused “just a few days available, don’t wait…” plea. Tread lightly as the better places are all booked and you would want to get on their waiting list hoping for a cancellation. Not to say you can’t find a great outfit to get in with, just be thorough in your research as using a guide is a great way to get on some birds in an area you are unfamiliar with or in a better opportunity zone than your home base.
STICK WITH IT
Duck hunting is not like bream fishing in a stocked pond. There are good days and bad days. Even for the million dollar duck clubs and the guys who have hunted their whole lives. Duck hunting definitely has more ok to poor days than terrific ones. Make no mistake, if you duck hunt just for the kill or shooting limits, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.
I’d be lying if I didn’t enjoy those banner days where the ducks do right, but there are so many other things to enjoy about the sport. The camaraderie and social aspect of duck hunting is tough to beat. Nights at the duck camp around the fire with good friends makes for some special times. The sunrises, sunsets, and just being out in God’s creation are remarkable as well.
The less ate up with shooting limits you are, the more you will enjoy the sport. If we could shoot limits every time out, I doubt duck hunting would be as appealing. The strategy and effort to trick them on those good to great days is what makes it so rewarding when it all works out.
You are going to cross paths with hunters that constantly whine and complain about the good ole days and how bad modern day duck hunting is. Ignore all that and develop your own opinions. Find ways to enjoy the sport of duck hunting without a preconceived, negative attitude. Your glory days are yet to come.
Hopefully those bits of advice give you the willpower to try the sport of duck hunting. The rewards go far behind how many ducks end up in the post hunt picture. Starting with that attitude and mindset will definitely help you appreciate the game you are chasing and what all goes into having success and handle the days it doesn’t.
But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Duck hunting is HIGHLY addictive. Make sure you're at a stable point in your life with family, job, and so on. You will find yourself wanting to be out there more days than not.
About the Author
A lifelong waterfowler who cut his teeth duck hunting in the White River Bottoms at Crocketts Bluff as well as rice fields and reservoirs across Lonoke, Prairie, and Arkansas counties, Brent Birch is the publisher of The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground, which details the legacy of Arkansas’s rich waterfowling history. He is also co-creator and editor of Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine and co-founder of the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame located in Stuttgart, Arkansas.