by Naomi K. Shapiro
Duck hunting is a far more popular sport than one generally thinks. The first article of several we have planned -- "Duck Hunting 101" -- starts with a general discussion...
Duck hunting is very popular all over the Midwest. There are two "types" of ducks: "locals," and those that migrate down from the North -- Canada and the Arctic -- along what is called the Central Flyway.
Quick caveat: As in no other hunting venue, duck hunting regulations change EACH AND EVERY SINGLE YEAR! Quantities, hens or drakes, specific species, season dates -- all change yearly. Don't forget that. Make sure you check your state or area regs continuously. You have to know what you can shoot -- and trust us, wardens and rangers have little patience with "bottom-feeders" who poach, violate regs, or overhunt. Heavy fines, license loss -- and even jail time are becoming the norm – and, frankly, that's OK with us. Those of us who love hunting recognize we're in this together and must protect our rights and our precious environment and resources from those few who flaunt the law with no consideration for the rest of us.
The most popular way to duck hunt is to get up "before the birds" -- as in pre-dawn, and the "dark of night." Ducks relate to water; thus ninety-nine per cent of duck hunters select their favorite waterway, river, marsh, pond, large lake, or reservoir along duck flyways.
Most hunters will go out and set up some sort of blind. Hunters will build blinds themselves from surrounding natural materials like cattails, marsh grass, brush, sticks, tree limbs -- whatever is there (and please don't cut down trees or tear off limbs, or pull out lots of fresh vegetation -- there's plenty of "old stuff" around to use). Others will literally build some of type "little hut," but, whatever, it must be some place that will conceal you. And yes -- there are the few who build an elaborate blind with 2 x 4s or metal sheeting or whatever, and construct an elaborate "small fort" or house right on the water. Note well that if there is some type of "permanent structure," there are specific dates when they can be set out, and specific dates when they must be taken down and removed. As most duck hunters use public lands, be aware that these date restrictions are strictly enforced. Phil Schweik says that he tries to save whatever bucks he can, whenever he can, and keep it simple. It has worked for him over the years – and, like many of us, he doesn't have the "deep pockets" to do otherwise.
The purpose of a blind is to allow you to sit at least in relative comfort (good clothing and insulation are musts), and call ducks with a mouth call, and keep an eye on the decoys you've set out. What you're trying to do is to use the decoys as a visual attraction in conjunction with your duck calls. Decoys are usually duck specific, like mallards, bluebills, green or blue wing teal, pintails, and so on. And most savvy duck hunters know from experience, that because you use a duck specific decoy doesn't mean that another species may not pay you a "close visit." You can be calling or "decoying" for a mallard, for instance, and suddenly a completely different species will come in. Happens all the time.
The bottom line is that you're trying to draw the ducks who are looking for a place to rest or are flying by, into your gun range.
Duck hunting can be very "easy" early in the season because the ducks have not yet become "educated" to the presence of hunters. As the season progresses, the ducks become more wary, and the placement of decoys, your calls, and, particularly your concealment, become more and more important to do properly. Duck hunting is not a sport where you can just helter-skelter throw our some decoys and make some calls and expect to be successful.
That's it for "Duck Hunting 101." In the future, in upcoming articles, we'll discuss proper calling techniques, decoy set up, type of guns and shot loads to use, and making calls.
(Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Services contributed to this article).