By Chris Larsen
Getting invited to hunt with someone new is one of duck hunting’s greatest pleasures. It usually starts with a conversation. During the conversation the other guy or gal decides you’re worthy of sharing a blind with them and they say, “would you like to go hunting next week?” It’s a lot like the dating game, only with guns and camouflage. Of course, for some of us guns and camouflage are also part of dating. Most of these dates are great experiences. I’ve met several people whom I consider among my best friends on such dates. However, a few have been nightmarish experiences. The offenses range from being poor conversationalists to downright breaking the law.
Etiquette on when to call the shot is a common breaking point. Some hunting parties have a natural understanding of who calls the shot and when the time is right. Others debate whether the call was too early or late seemingly every time a bird passes by. It’s like trying to decide when to go for the first kiss. If you’re right, it’s magical. If you’re wrong, you might get slapped.
One of the first things I ask after the decoys are set is who is going to call the shot. If you’ve hunted together for a while, the most experienced hunter usually calls the shot. If it’s a first date, the host should call the shot. The discussion is critical. I nearly jumped out of my waders one morning when my new hunting partner unloaded his gun from the barrel at a flock of ducks coming in from behind us. This is somewhat acceptable on the occasional single that sneaks in but there is no reason not to say “behind” or “birds” before pulling the trigger. But there was no discussion before hand and this guy had been hunting by himself for years… and probably still is.
Don’t just decide who is going to call the shot. Talk about where ducks or geese will likely come from and how they may react to the decoys and blind. This will help the caller make better decisions on when to call the shot. Ducks don’t always do what they think they will, but it helps to have a plan.
Another factor is cultural differences. In my home state of Wisconsin, most hunters prefer to shoot ducks as they are back pedaling into the decoys. Their flight has slowed, but they are still on the wing. Southern standing timber hunters often let ducks land in the decoys, then flush them before pulling the trigger. This creates shooting similar to upland hunting. It is incredibly effective but some hunters may consider it to be unsporting. In my opinion, it is great hunting. If ducks land in your decoys, you have truly fooled them!
Zones of fire are also an important topic for safety reasons, etiquette, and efficiency. If geese come straight into the blind, where to shoot is fairly self explanatory. Hunters on the right shoot at birds to the right, hunters in the middle of the blind shoot at middle birds, and so on.
When hunting a crosswind it is important to wait until the flock is right out in front of the blind before calling the shot. For example, if I’m hunting a wind blowing from right to left, I’ll wait until the lead birds are just past the center of the blind before calling the shot. This depends on how many birds are in the flock of course. If there are only two or three birds, you can call it a little earlier since there won’t be many follow up shots. When hunting a large flock, be sure to give everyone an opportunity to unload their gun.
Make sure to set decoys correctly as well. Most hunters simply put decoys out in front of the blind. However, when hunting crosswinds it is better to set decoys upwind of the blind. Otherwise, ducks like mallards will stop short of the decoys and only the hunters on the downwind side of the blind can take safe shots.
My final tip is on volume. A lot of hunters yell, “TAKE ‘EM” as if they are trying to kill ducks with the power of their voice. All that is needed is a conversational volume. Don’t give ducks anymore reasons to be alerted ahead of time. Good luck on your next date. Whether it’s a first date or the one hundredth, it should always be fun.