Waterfowl hunting, like every sport or discipline, has obvious rules—and then there are the unspoken expectations. Adhering to both can mean the difference between maintaining lifelong hunting partners and never getting invited along on a duck hunt again. Here’s a list of key things to avoid when you hit the blind this fall.
“You can’t hit ’em if you don’t shoot!” No doubt you’ve heard someone say that line, typically as a feeble justification for wasting three shotgun shells at a flock of geese miles overhead. Although just about everyone has, at some point, seen a hunter pull off a miraculous long-range shot, those who consistently take scratch shots—thereby ruining any chance of calling the birds in—are typically not invited back.
Shooting prematurely at birds coming into decoys
Few moments are as exhilarating as those spent holding your breath, eagerly watching as a flock of greenheads—wings cupped—commits to your decoys. And few things will earn a hunter a dressing-down as quickly as standing and firing before those birds have come into deadly range. Admittedly, it does take a great deal of discipline to wait when you think you have a shot now. The best way to avoid this? Nominate someone in the group to give the shoot order: Everyone holds fire until that person shouts, “Take ’em!”
Bringing an untrained dog
We’ve covered this exhaustively before. Simply put, if your dog isn’t ready for the field and can’t follow simple directives, you’re better off leaving her at home. There’s a line where a dog goes from being a valuable asset to duck hunters to being a nuisance or a detriment. Recognize where your pup falls on that spectrum and act accordingly. You can enjoy plenty of success without a dog, anyway.
Shooting over someone else’s decoys
Come fall, lakes and marshes can get crowded with hunters. This means you may find yourself situated fairly close to another hunter’s decoy spread. If a bird comes into their decoys, even if they’re within your effective range to shoot, it’s good etiquette to let them do the shooting. You can definitely take shots at any they miss that come your way, though.
Broadly, this applies to shooting at birds other hunters would have a better shot at, too. For instance, you may have ducks that come in a little high for you, but are dropping quickly and will be in range for other hunters nearby. Don’t take a mediocre shot just so you can be the one to pull the trigger. Treat other hunters with respect and they’ll do the same for you when the roles are reversed.
Deafening your buddies
Duck hunting is a more social form of hunting than many others: You can stand beside your buddies, speaking in a normal tone, then, when the birds are spotted, everyone ducks down and gets into hunting mode. Although that’s part of what makes waterfowl hunting fun, it also tends to lead to situations where hunters are standing a little closer together than they otherwise would in other disciplines. It’s very easy, then, to lose muzzle awareness and deafen your buddy by shooting over their head.
Bringing “that guy” along
Introducing new hunters to your group is fine, but make sure they’re a good culture fit and understand the expectations. Nothing will ruin a hunt faster than a new person who breaks all the rules and shows none of the expected etiquette, and you’ll be held responsible for that person’s behavior. Choose your guests wisely.
Forgetting to put the plug in your gun
Rocking a semi-automatic or pump shotgun this duck season? Check to make sure you’ve put a plug in the tubular magazine. For the uninitiated, you are legally permitted three shots at waterfowl, but most shotguns can hold five. A plug—just a wood or plastic dowel, in most cases—is installed inside the magazine and reduces a shotgun’s capacity to three. Don’t be the guy who, five minutes before the season opens, realizes a fourth shell fits in his gun. The rest of the group will have to frantically dig through their gear in search of a pencil or other suitable plug-like device to make sure you’re legal, which is no fun when the birds are flying.