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Lessons from a Beginner Waterfowler

Anytime you take up a new hobby, there is always a lot to learn. 2017 was my first official waterfowl season and was also my first hunting season after moving to Idaho, and I definitely tried to soak it all in and learn everything I could.

Well, I actually learned a lot. I can shoot skeet pretty good, and going into season, I thought that waterfowl hunting was basically wearing full camo, sitting near water, hiding in the grass and shooting birds instead of clays. I guess it’s still pretty much just like that, but there is so much more to it: finding birds, understanding decoys, calling, shooting at the right time, and on and on!

2017 duck season opener

Below are just some of the things I’ve learned so far:

1) If you buy a new shotgun, pattern it before going hunting.

I bought a new Browning A5 shotgun and got it August 30; early Canadian goose season started September 1. I had one day to target shoot before season started, and couldn’t get to the range. On the first day, there were tons of geese flying and I couldn’t hit anything! That afternoon, I stopped at the range and found that it was patterning high and to the left.

2) Try different shells to see what works best in your gun.

When I patterned my shotgun, I was using Winchester 3-1/2” BB shells. On a recommendation of a die-hard waterfowler, I tried the Winchester Blindside shells and they hit perfectly centered. In fact, there were 180 pellets in a 30” circle. I switched shells, started knocking down birds, and bought 2 cases of Blind Sides.

3) Hunting while wearing a cast is difficult.

Two weeks prior to duck season, I tripped in the woods and fractured my wrist, resulting in a cast from my elbow to my fingers. I couldn’t actually hold my gun, so if I wanted to hunt, I had to rest it on my cast. The light weight of the A5 was helpful for this. A couple of times, I was able to turn my arm and hold on to the gun, and realized that didn’t feel very good on my wrist.

4) Practice shooting from your layout blind prior to season.

My layout blind was brand new, and pretty stiff…and I had never hunted laying down. I practiced in the backyard, popping up out of it with my gun (unloaded, of course!) and aiming in different directions; this was also helpful in determining how to hunt in a cast. I figured out how I needed to have the flaps positioned to open the easiest and how I needed to be situated not only for successful shooting, but for comfort during the hunt.

Hunting from a layout blind

5) Just because ducks are everywhere in the summer, doesn’t mean they’ll be there in the fall.

During summer scouting, it seemed like hunting season would be a piece of cake. Ducks and geese everywhere! It seemed like every pond, lake, stream and river had birds swimming in it. Opening day came, and they seemed to disappear. On day 3 of early goose season, we floated the river that runs through our area and we found the geese. Literally hundreds of geese on the banks, but getting them was a whole different story. I’m considering painting geese on the side of our canoe and wearing a goose shell as a hat.

Geese on Bear River

6) When the water is extremely clear, you need to rethink your decoy lines and clips.

In Idaho, the water is very clear, and because of that, dark colored lines and shiny clips are easily spotted by ducks flying over. On the first day of season, we had ducks start to come in multiple times, but then they did a 180 and left. We finally figured out they could see the clips below water shining. Went home and painted them with matte green paint.

7) Ducks fly faster than you think.

Even if you’re good at shooting skeet, they are no comparison to actual ducks. When a flock of teals fly over, it sounds like a little pack of fighter jets—their wings just whistle as they go over. When ducks are flying, you have to aim well ahead of them to knock them down. Best shots: coming straight in toward you.

8) Ducks, especially mallards, are easily spooked.

I’m not sure if ducks are actually easily spooked, or if they recognized our truck. But it seemed like every time we were scouting and approached water with birds on it, they would immediately fly off—even if other vehicles had just been there. I think we need to repaint our truck the color of sagebrush so it’s camouflaged.

9) Using a duck or goose call isn’t as easy as it looks on TV.

As with most things, what you see on TV isn’t what it’s like in real life. I purchased a goose call along with the Molten Gear “Bad Grammar” DVD to try to learn how to call. It’s extremely hard to even get a halfway decent sound if you aren’t used to using a call. (And how do you even pick a call? There are so many options!) Note to self: start practicing now for next season, make it a habit of practicing 15-20 minutes per day.

10) There are a lot of different ducks—and many of them look similar!

Having something in the field to help identify ducks, such as the Ducks Unlimited app, is extremely helpful. It includes detailed information, photos and videos of a variety of ducks that you can easily pull up during the hunt to confirm what you see or shoot. Another good option is “text a friend”! During our hunts, we would text pictures of the birds to our die-hard waterfowler friend and he would confirm what it was.