Why hunt ducks?
By Luke Clayton
Nov 5, 2018
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Many of my non-duck hunting friends often inquire about what is so special about crawling out of bed way before the sun even thinks of spreading it’s golden rays, swigging down a couple of quick cups of coffee, then loading the duck boat with decoys, shotguns and all the paraphernalia necessary for a successful (or not so successful) duck hunt.  Often, during the evening hours, my family and friends find me in a semi-conscious state induced from lack of sleep. Duck hunting definitely has its inherent challenges, but the rewards more than make up for the inconveniences. 

So what’s the big attraction that lures thousands of us avid duck hunters out from under the warm covers and into the frigid pre-dawn duck marsh? I’ve never been on two duck hunts that unfolded exactly the same. Likewise, there’s no ‘typical’ duck hunt, they’re all different just as no two Indy 500 auto races or National Finals Rodeos are the same.

A duck hunt I recently enjoyed  was about as ‘typical’ as they get.  If you’ve never been on a duck hunt, the account of this one will give you a pretty good indication of what this sport is all about. If you’re a veteran of the marshes, you will likely find yourself right there in the blind with me!

5:45 a.m. - Arrive at the series of gravel pits where I hunt with my buddy who is also a glutton for punishment (an avid duck hunter). Unload the little two-man boat from the truck, drag it down to the water and begin stowing shells, shotguns, gear bags, and Mojo spinning wing decoy. Screw the trolling motor on the transom, jump in the boat, and pour the electricity to the powerful little motor and we’re on our way. BUT WAIT! Did I remember to put the battery in the Mojo spinning way decoy? A quick inspection proves that I did not. Back to the bank to retrieve the battery.

“Grab that sheet of camo burlap to cover the boat know we forgot it last time and the boat spooked the birds,” admonishes my buddy.”

"OK, and I’ll grab another box of shells, just to be safe," I answered.

As we thread our way through the shallow stretches of water that connects the backwaters of the gravel pits, we take a turn to the left and wind up in a dead-end cove. That’s right, we needed to go to the NEXT pocket of open water and turn left.

"Our blind is about 400 yards in THAT direction," I advise, pointing to the general direction of the little blind we constructed of hog wire and natural vegetations on a small island.

6:10 a.m. - Arrive at the blind, set out decoys, making sure to set the Mojo decoy in the pipe we leave permanently driven into the muddy bottom. With a push of the switch, our Mojo decoy is working and we paddle to the blind and begin offloading gear.

With the boat pulled up into the weeds, we crawl into the blind, put on our face masks, ready our calls and load the shotguns.

Dang it! We forgot to pull the burlap camo over the boat. Back out of the blind I go and drape the camo over the boat setting adjacent to our little island. About the time I get settled into the blind, a flight of blue wing teal buzz by overhead, then I hear them splashing as they land in the decoys. Good insurance! With birds on the water we can always jump them come legal shooting time and surely harvest a bird or two.

Shortly thereafter, the small flight of teal take wing and disappear low over the water. Had they flew a bit higher, we might could have ‘slylighted’ them and harvested a bird or two. With a dark background behind them we could only hear them leaving. We never fired a shot.

Then a flock of gadwall came in high and I began coaxing them down with that raspy, fast cadenced quack common to the species. The birds worked well and on their second approach, locked their wings and came sailing into our spread. We managed to put 3 of them on the water. Aah! Three birds equates to 6 breast halves wrapped in bacon and grilled! Our hunt was already a success, at least in the culinary sense!

I decided to fire up the electric motor and retrieve the 3 ducks. At precisely the moment I put the first gadwall drake into the water, a pair of pintail approached low on the water, spotted me and quickly headed to parts unknown. It seems the one sure-fire method of luring ducks to your blind is to get out in front of it and move around! But why did these birds have to be PINTAILS, a highly desired species and one that only occasionally frequents our little backwater marsh? Why couldn’t they have been blue bills or widgeon? It was a sad sight to see this pair of highly coveted pintails tease us in such a manner. One was a ‘bull sprig’ (mature pintail drake) with long tail feathers. This added fuel to the flame!

7:05 a.m. - A lone pintail flies by about 30 feet above our heads. My buddy throws up his shotgun and, shooting instinctively, tracks the bird without sighting down the barrel, and jerks the trigger. A big bull sprig splashes water within 3 feet of the blind! Now, buddy, that’s shooting!

A few minutes later, a flight of 6 mallards approaches our set up from the west and appear to like what they see. With wings set, they make their final approach and I lock in on a big green head bringing up the rear. The instant my shotgun's swing catches up with the crossing bird, the sun blocks my vision. Instinctively, I continue with my shotgun swing and when I ‘feel’ I have the lead right, pull the trigger. A big green head comes tumbling from the sky and makes a big splash among our decoys. Moments such as these are the primary reasons that I leave a warm home for the often cold, damp duck blind during a period of day when most are still sleeping. 

On other more ‘non-typical’ duck hunts, I never fire a shot but when the boat is loaded and I climb back into the truck, I’m still glad I got up early and was there on the water to experience the sights and sounds of the world coming to life. I’m always rewarded with the sight of a beaver or nutria swimming near my blind or, a flight of noisy crows quarreling in a tree along the shore.

No, duck hunting might not be for everybody but personally, I am happy that I have learned to love the sound of whistling wings, wings that propelled the migrating duck from who knows where. I never shoot a duck that I don’t take the time to admire the plumage and wonder where the duck has been and what sights it has seen on its long trip that ended above my decoy spread.

If you’ve never hunted ducks, hopefully this little account will give you a rough idea of what the sport is all about. But, to be truthful, I can fully understand why so many think we duck hunters are ‘nuts’!  One morning in a well-positioned duck blind when the birds are working the decoys is often all it takes to make a life long duck hunter.  Try it, my might just discover that duck hunting is for you! But a word of caution: It’s a pretty good chance that YOU will become that sleepy head at the dinner party; 4:30 a.m. is mighty early to get out of bed!

Luke’s book, Kill to Grill, The Ultimate Guide to hunting and cooking wild pork is available via