The Small Rewards of Duck Hunting

Kyle Wintersteen,

Senior Associate Editor

He walks through the door utterly exhausted, a touch of frostbite on his fingers obtained while picking up decoys. All he wants is a large amount of food and a light brown beverage, but ducks must be plucked and guns must be oiled. Such is life for a man who lives for waterfowl season.

If you consider yourself a duck hunter but have never looked to the skies from your blind and asked, "What am I doing here?" either you have no care for your financial or physical well-being, or you aren't paying attention. We spend more money on guns, boats, decoys and other waterfowl accoutrements than any mother-in-law would ever approve of, just to lather it all in marsh slop. Our trucks are dented from sliding down icy boat ramps, and their wiring is shot from the strain of trailer-light illumination. It's too hot in teal season, too darn cold by the time the mallards arrive. The wind either blows too hard, not hard enough or in the wrong direction. Or it rains—not just a sprinkle, but a downpour in which no self-respecting duck would ever fly. Unfortunately for us, old Fred believes ducks fly in the rain, and if one member of the group wants to hunt, we all hunt.

So, as we partake in this exercise in cognitive dissonance, let us consider the following: What's the reward for all this trouble? It isn't trophies, at least not the kind recognized by Boone and Crockett, but it is a fallacy to say there are no trophies in duck hunting. Just as deer hunters enter the woods knowing this could be the day they shoot a Booner, the duck hunter knows any day in the marsh could be the one in which he finally kills a drake canvasback, an old bull sprig or four drake mallards.

Yes, waterfowling has its rewards. For many of us it is the beauty and diversity of the ducks themselves that drive our souls, and we know that when John Cartier wrote that he'd "rather shoot one 24-ounce bluebill than six tons of elephant," he meant it, for we have felt duck hunting's call.

We know that when a duck hunter eyes a dozen mallards cupping their wings and pitching into the blocks—whether he is a Midwest farm boy on a backyard pothole or a New York lawyer hunting with a guide—he is the richest man alive. On a good day, the hunter may experience this treat several times and, as he returns home with two or three mallards, he'd swear he is a king.

Soon the rich aroma of roasting ducks and Hoppe's No. 9 fills the home. The news reports storms to the north. Bingo! That's all that's needed for the duck hunter to develop an irrational optimism for tomorrow.

Bedtime comes early. A worn out black Lab with a graying muzzle lies at the foot of the bed. A very understanding "duck-hunting widow" is under the sheets.Just before he dozes off, the duck hunter reflects upon the day's events, kids himself that nobody's ever had it so good and considers the plan for the morning—a strong westerly wind is expected; the ducks will probably tuck back in the slough. By 4 a.m. he'll be ready to do it all over again.

So, while befuddled observers ponder our willingness to suffer waterfowling's best miseries, we'll continue seeking its many rewards. For even as we flare the only ducks of the day, our dog breaks on a passing swan and we discover too late that high tide is 3 inches higher than our decoy lines are long, we know our sport is worth every ounce of frustration. We will hunt until the season ends or the ice is too thick to sledgehammer open. Then we'll busy ourselves painting decoys, patching waders and repairing marriages until fall's glorious return brings with it flights of ducks and another opening day. For despite its hardships, the duck hunter knows he is a participant in the greatest recreation ever invented.

 

 

Tips to Take to the Bank

by Mike Hanback

Field Editor

What's the best rut sign?

Look for rubs and lots of them. Scientists say a property with a good number of mature bucks can have 10 times as many rubs as a spot with few bucks that are 3.5 years and older.

Scientific studies show

and check for does where narrow fingers of timber or brush intersect, says top whitetail biologist Mickey Hellickson, after analyzing thousands of trail-cam images of Iowa and Texas bucks. Now you know where to hang some stands.

Your midday hunting

will be best from the 21st to the 24th, before the majority of hunters hit the woods on Thanksgiving weekend. There's a funky full moon this month—not until November 21. I expect bucks to rut some at midday, but not as much as they would had the moon waxed full earlier in the month. Come the 21st, bowhunters have been in the woods for a good six weeks, and guns have started booming in some states. I believe this pressure overrides the moon's effects and turns bucks secretive and nocturnal.

 

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Past Articles

Geese Are Alway s Trophies
by Kyle Wintersteen, Contributing Writer

The half dozen geese crested the oaks and slammed on the brakes, the drag of their primary feathers audibly slicing the crisp January air.... Read More »

We Hunt Bear
by Adam Heggenstaller, Editor in Chief, Shooting Illustrated

The season begins with 22 of us staring at a net of rhododendron that rises steeply to meet a lead-colored sky... Read More »

The Kings of Fall
by Jeff Johnston, Executive Editor American Hunter

Rays of sunlight sprout over wooded horizons as a predator stalks silently... Read More »

Never Too Late for Bushy Tails
by Patrick Durkin, Contributing Writer

Hours after my oldest daughter, Leah, arrowed her first whitetail at age 12, I realized I’d helped her do something I’d long preached against: hunt deer without first hunting squirrels.... Read More »

Grouse Season
by Doug Larsen, Contributing Writer

Opening day of grouse season isn’t like any other hunting opener, not at all. It isn’t duck season, when we sync our watches to the nuclear clock... Read More »

Going Up
by John Zent, Editorial Director

Hard-core sheep hunters remind me of the penthouse culture described by novelist Tom Wolfe in his 1980s best-seller, Bonfire of the Vanities. Read More »

Hazardous to Your Health
by J. Scott Olmsted, Editor-in-Chief

Many hunts can be described as hours of boredom punctuated by fleeting instances of action. Few put a knot of anxiety in your stomach like a hunt for dangerous game. Read More »

Hunting Dinosaurs
by Adam Heggenstaller, Shooting Illustrated Editor-in-Chief

Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »

The Glory of Handloading
by Keith Wood, Contributing Writer

Handloading's not a new concept, but more hunters are adopting it in order to save money and get through ammunition marketplace shortages. Read More »

Buck Fever
by Karen Mehall, AH Senior Editor

I glimpse antlers filtering toward me 80 yards to the right. Tall rack, beams outside the ears. Beautiful buck... Read More »

Southbound Teal
by Jon Draper, AH Assistant Editor

Even though you know what you are about to see as you open the freezer, the sight of your last delicious duck making its final flight ... Read More »

A Nation of Plinkers
by Jeff Johnston, AH Managing Editor

Plink, plink, plink plink, plink. The sound soothes good folks' ears even if muffled by foam plugs. It's the sound of everything we know to be good.... Read More »

The Right Stuff for Turkeys
by Bob Robb, Contributing Writer

Last season when I was hunting turkeys at Miller Creek Ranch in central Texas, I found that gobblers were henned up beyond belief... Read More »

Is This the Year
by Adam Heggenstaller, Executive Editor

This could be the year. Waiting for day—the day—to break... Read More »

10 Million Deer Hunters Roll Out for the Rut
by J. Scott Olmsted, Editor in Chief

This is a big deal. Work will wait, schools will close—all in the name of deer season... Read More »

Rabbits:The Rite of Passage
by Ron Spomer, Field Editor

Bunnies aren't beneath me. Sadly, this is not the case for all hunters these days. Some look down their noses at old Br'er Rabbit... Read More »

Cougar
by Jeff Johnston, Managing Editor

Thirteen miles from the nearest paved road in Utah's northeastern backcountry, high on an impossible bluff, a predator stalks its prey through snow-filtered moonlight.... Read More »

The Shed Hunting Addiction
by Mark Kayser

Some days the prize is nothing more than exercise and the opportunity to spend a day enjoying outdoor splendor. That's fine with me. Other days can bring... Read More »

The Madness of Spring
by Jeff Johnston

Nature's orchestra is warming up as you exit the truck and inhale an electric breeze. The sky is a gray curtain flush with... Read More »

The Mystique of Bear Hunting
by Bryce M. Towsley

Your mind has zoned out so it takes a minute to realize that, like a scene from a poorly written book, "suddenly it's quiet... Read More »

Why We Love Dogs
by Kyle Wintersteen, Senior Associate Editor

It is said that you should never insult a man's gun or his dog. I think further emphasis ought to be on the dog... Read More »

A Day at the Range
by J. Scott Olmsted, Editor in Chief,

It's July, have you hugged your rifle lately? I haven't, and it's high time I did. Despite what the calendar says deer season is right around the corner... Read More »

September Song
by Joe H. Graham, Executive Director, NRA Publications

It's impressive how long rows of ripe sunflowers, broad harvested grain fields and languid farm ponds with a dead snag or two really seize your attention... Read More »

The Siren Song of the West
by J. Scott Olmsted, Editor in Chief,

When wanderlust strikes sometimes I climb on my Harley and head south on Lee Highway, through the Manassas Battlefield... Read More »

Don't Call Him a Ditch Chicken
by Kyle Wintersteen, Senior Associate Editor,

On paper the ring-necked pheasant shouldn't be all that tough to kill. He's a predictable fellow, feeding... Read More »

The Small Rewards of Duck Hunting
by Kyle Wintersteen, Senior Associate Editor

If you consider yourself a duck hunter but have never looked to the skies from your blind and asked, "What am I doing here?"... Read More »

Past Tips

Did You Know?

If you are using a call, learn to make scolding, barking, feeding and distress calls... Read More »

Did You Know?

If you are using a call, learn to make scolding, barking, feeding and distress calls... Read More »

Did You Know?

If you are using a call, learn to make scolding, barking, feeding and distress calls... Read More »

Did You Know?

If you are using a call, learn to make scolding, barking, feeding and distress calls... Read More »

Did You Know?

When flushed, grouse typically fly sideways... Read More »

Did You Know?

Guided hunts for Dall, Stone and most desert bighorn rams run well into the five figures, some $15,000 to $40,000 at current rates.... Read More »

Did You Know?

To determine a gator's overall length, gauge the number of inches between its eyes and nose... Read More »

Did You Know?

To determine a gator's overall length, gauge the number of inches between its eyes and nose... Read More »

Reloading Saves Dough

With the cost of metals ever-increasing, reloading will save you cash... Read More »

Hunting Tips

In November when most does are in estrus, bucks are on the move... Read More »

Teal Trackin' Tips

Hunting teal in the Southern United States in September dictates warm-weather gear... Read More »

Make It Fun

Bringing newcomers to the fold? Reactive targets provide instant gratification and enhance the shooting experience—especially for new shooters.... Read More »

Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom

Many times a tom hangs up not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call... Read More »

Collect More Bills

Don't rush (and miss) the first shot...
Read More »

Find the Hotspots
by Mike Hanback, Field Editor

The start of the rut can vary by days or a week depending on region... Read More »

How to Think Like a Rabbit
by by J. Scott Olmsted, Editor in Chief

Rabbit fur provides poor insulating qualities....
Read More »

Hunters' Field-Judging Tips

An exceptionally large male may lay down a track as wide as 5 inches. Tracks of adult females... Read More »

A Shed Hunter's Trophy Tips

Early searching could force animals to move into new areas off-limits to you, making shed antlers unavailable... Read More »

How to Put Down A Black Bear

Most hunters are used to aiming behind the shoulder on deer for a double-lung shot. This works on bears, too... Read More »

Bird Dogs for the Suburbs

Did you know legendary gundog author Nash Buckingham spent most of his life in a Memphis apartment... Read More »

Do This at the Range

You likely haven't fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff... Read More »

Teamwork in the Dove Field

Noting dove food choices available in your area pays dividends when scouting fields. Freshly harvested grains like corn... Read More »

Elkspeak

If you expect to wade into the timber and come out with a trophy, you'd better understand the language of your quarry... Read More »

Take These Tips Afield

Success isn't always a matter of luck; strategize appropriately. Hitting the field with only one or two hunters... Read More »

Tips to Take to the Bank
by Mike Hanback, Field Editor

Look for rubs and lots of them. Scientists say a property with a ... Read More »

 

Past Stories

Excellence

RAM 3500 HEAVY DUTY Few truck brands have more all-around style... Read More »

Excellence

RAM 3500 HEAVY DUTY Few truck brands have more all-around style... Read More »

Excellence

RAM 1500 OUTDOORSMAN is virtually indestructible, can be driven every day of the year... Read More »

Excellence

RAM 1500 OUTDOORSMAN is virtually indestructible, can be driven every day of the year... Read More »

Laramie Longhorn

The 2011 Ram Laramie Longhorn sets a new standard for luxury trucks. From high-end exterior treatments to rich... Read More »

Guts. Glory. Ram.

Three short words that accurately describe the new Ram 1500 Express and Ram 1500 Tradesman... Read More »

Essential Gear

For 2012, Ram Light Duty pickups are now rated at 20 mpg hwy... Read More »

Ram Outdoorsman

a new feature package designed for North American outdoor enthusiasts... Read More »

Texas Truck Rodeo

the Texas Auto Writers Association named Ram Trucks worthy of delivering true Lone Star State capability... Read More »

2011 Ram Outdoorsman

Full-Size Pickup Truck of Texas. From open range to thick backwoods, Ram Outdoorsman has the off-road capability to take you where ordinary trucks can't.... Read More »

At this year's Texas Truck Rodeo

the Texas Auto Writers Association named Ram Trucks worthy of delivering true Lone Star State capability.... Read More »

New 2011 Ram Tradesman

Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »

New 2011 Ram Tradesman

Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »

At this year's Texas Truck Rodeo

the Texas Auto Writers Association named Ram Trucks worthy of delivering true Lone Star State capability.... Read More »

The New Ram 1500 Express

Hear the growl of the standard, proven 5.7L Hemi V8 that offers 20 hwy mpg and kicks out 390 hp... Read More »

The New Ram 1500 Express

Hear the growl of the standard, proven 5.7L Hemi V8 that offers 20 hwy mpg and kicks out 390 hp... Read More »

2011 Ram Outdoorsman. A trusted companion.

The story begins outdoors. Where wind and sky fill a man's veins with a steel resolve... Read More »

Excellence

RAM 3500 HEAVY DUTY Few truck brands have more all-around style... Read More »

 

11

The number of states that honor the whitetail as a state symbol.

511

Largest-ever body weight, in pounds, of a whitetail.

30 million

U.S. deer population.

1 in 30,000

Ratio of albino deer to typically colored deer.

fast fact

The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.

 

Past Numbers

1976

The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of... Read More »

18 years

Average age black bears live to in the wild... Read More »

307 5/8 inches

Boone and Crockett Club official measurement of the largest fair-chase buck ever killed... Read More »

1.7M

The number of hunters who pursued squirrels in 2011 for a combined 21 million days afield... Read More »

1/2 Mile

The drumming of a male ruffed grouse... Read More »

$3,180 New Mexico

Price of nonresident sheep tags-.. Read More »

50

Running speed in mph of both a leopard and lion... Read More »

500

Number (in pounds) of an average adult male... Read More »

$50

Average price for 20 rounds of .270 Winchester ammunition loaded... Read More »

500,000

Estimated population of the Cinnamon Teal, arguably the most sought after of the species... Read More »

1.3 million

Number of U.S. citizens who participated in informal target shooting... Read More »

34.4 million

Number of turkeys in the United States in 1973... Read More »

40.9 million

number of total breeding ducks estimated... Read More »

180 degrees

How far a whitetail's ears rotate to pick up sound... Read More »

10.1 million

number of deer hunters in the United States... Read More »

1.9 million

number of rabbit hunters in the United States... Read More »

668

Number of cougars killed by Jay C. Bruce, a professional mountain lion hunter... Read More »

399,000

Number of bear hunters in the United States... Read More »

14.8 million

Number of Americans who currently participate in rifle target shooting... Read More »

700

Weight, in pounds, of a mature bull elk... Read More »

75-80

Percentage of annual pheasant harvest that occurs in opening two weeks... Read More »

11

The number of states that honor the whitetail as a state symbol... Read More »

 

Past Facts

Black bears

Black bears feed up to 20 hours per day prior to winter denning to accumulate fat (energy)... Read More »

Deer killed

The total number of deer killed by 630,373 licensed hunters... Read More »

Fox Squirrels

Researcher Laura Boester at the University of Toledo found that fox squirrels hear... Read More »

Ruffed Grouse

What's in a name? A lot if it's ruffed grouse—or, in Latin, Bonasa umbellus... Read More »

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep in North America have increased in population... Read More »

Cape buffalo

Both sexes of Cape buffalo have horns.... Read More »

Prehistoric Predators

Alligators can survive without eating for two to three years... Read More »

Reloading Training Courses

NRA conducts metallic reloading training courses.... Read More »

Whitetail researchers

Whitetail researchers have found there are two peak periods of the day when bucks visit scrapes: between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. and between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.... Read More »

Teal hens

Teal hens of all three subspecies make a noise similar to the traditional "quack,"... Read More »

Smith - Wesson's .22

Smith - Wesson's .22 Short first appeared in 1857 and was followed in... Read More »

Turkey Feathers

Between 5,000 to 6,000 feathers cover the body of an adult turkey... Read More »

Mourning Dove Call

The annual Mourning Dove Call-Count Survey provides an index of... Read More »

George Washington,

the the father of our nation, was also the founder of... Read More »

cougar attacks

There have been 12 confirmed cougar attacks on humans in California... Read More »

Antlers are bones

Antlers are bones; along with horns, they are the only mammal bones... Read More »

The cackling goose

The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska... Read More »