Somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania (I’m cautious with specifics) lies a farm. And at the edge of that farm lies a pasture. And through that pasture meanders a narrow stream that’s invisible to passing motorists. Thus only select individuals are aware that the unassuming strip of water draws ducks. A lot of ducks. Flocks worthy of envy even in more western flyways — flocks that occasionally include drake black ducks.
So, as you might suspect, only trustworthy ’fowlers are allowed to accompany me to this Atlantic Flyway oasis. Nearly all have been invited back. One friend, although he might now prefer a different term, was not. Despite noting the location of the farmer’s barn, my companion took a crack at a tall, passing drake. Within seconds, the tink-tink-tink of steel pellets raining on a tin roof echoed across the property. We haven’t hunted together since.
The rules of waterfowling etiquette aren’t all that challenging to follow, but violating them is discourteous at best, and a safety hazard at worst. Neglecting them can cost you hunting opportunities, as well as friendships.
Want to end up hunting alone next season? These missteps will quickly cause you to lose your spot in the duck blind.
Don’t Train Your Dog
Your dog doesn’t have to nail 500-yard blind retrieves. Heck, the retriever doesn’t even need to mark every downed bird. However, good blind manners are required. Nobody wants to share a blind with a Chessie in a China shop.
A dog that excitedly prances around the blind, breaks consistently, steals sandwiches, risks knocking over shotguns or spends more time playing in the decoys than sitting on its retriever stand will cause your buddies to lose your phone number.
Shoot Outside Your Zone
I was on a trip hosted by a major ammo manufacturer, when a single greenhead decoyed directly off my side of the blind. Just as I began to mount my gun — KABOOM — a fellow outdoor writer in the center of the blind had leaned around me and fired. The muzzle blast dropped me to my knees. My right ear has never quite been the same.
The writer’s shot was both dangerous and downright rude. Don’t get greedy: Shoot only at ducks within your zone. Say there are three hunters in a blind. The hunter on the right can shoot any ducks out front or to the right; the hunter on the left can take birds to the left or in front; and the middle hunter can shoot birds centered over the decoys and a reasonable angle (typically about 30 degrees) to the right or left. Shooting out of your zone risks ringing your fellow hunters’ ears or just plain scaring the heck out of them. It’s also a lot more enjoyable to relax and gun ducks in your zone rather than race a game hog to the first shot.
Stink at Calling (But Call Anyway)
I’m an average caller at best, but at least I know my limitations. If there’s a better caller or two present, my lanyard stays in the blind bag.
Yet we all know a guy who’s oblivious to the horrendous notes produced by the plastic kazoo he swears is a duck call. Not only does he sound like a 5-year-old who just found grandpa’s single-reed, he thinks he’s Fred Zink. He calls so poorly, and so frequently, that all you can do is blare away on your own call to mask his caterwauling. Forget finishing chatter.
We all miss a few notes on our calls. But those who hail away with neither skill nor a desire to improve tend to flare ducks, as well as friends.
Insult the Dog
You can insult a hunter’s calling, shooting, decoys, truck or even a spouse, but insult his or her retriever, and you better be prepared to go for a roll in the dirt. And to find a new hunting buddy.
Treat Your Friend Like a Free Guide
Some people have a nose for the birds and love scouting almost as much as hunting. Perhaps you possess neither of these traits, but you still have to make the effort. Scouting requires time, effort and plenty of gas money. Be a team player. Don’t just show up to hunt.
That’s especially true if you have the privilege of hunting from someone else’s boat. Even the simplest johnboat requires physical and financial capital to maintain. So, pull your own weight. Scout extra hard, fill the outboard’s fuel tank, help paint the hull, buy breakfast — anything to show you’re a grateful first mate. Otherwise, the captain might have you transferred.
I suspect you’d sooner hand out your social security number on the street than disclose the locations of your favored duck spots. Any decent hunting buddy should recognize the need for such discretion. Loose lips sink ships — and ruin mallard honeyholes.
Still, mistakes can happen. Years ago at a local Delta Waterfowl dinner, I overheard a buddy come dangerously close to revealing our favorite bluebill spot while making his fourth trip to the beverage station. I promptly wrapped an arm around him, exclaiming, “Hey you won’t believe these decoys over here!”
I whisked him away as the general location of the sandbar crossed his lips. Even he couldn’t believe what he was saying. He knows he came perilously near being stranded ashore the next time the strong winds of winter send a good push of diving ducks our way.