by Dalton Walden, Slayer PRO Staff
As with any long-standing tradition, there are unspoken guidelines and rules of etiquette that govern a duck hunt.
If you’re new to the game, didn’t grow up duck hunting or just don’t know why you’re not getting invited back to the blind, you may be accidentally breaking one of the unwritten rules. You don’t know what you don’t know! So we’ve put together this primer of five bad behaviors that ensure you don’t get invited back on a duck hunt — and what to do instead.
It’s a cardinal rule of duck hunting: Don’t shoot unless the bird is well within range. When you break this rule, you’re skybusting.
Sometimes antsy hunters get the uncontrollable urge to take unnecessary or impossible shots at birds that are in a different area code. Nothing is more devastating than working a group of birds pass after pass, trying to get them right, and out of nowhere — boom. Just like that, the whole flock can be gone like yesterday.
Pass shooting at a bird within range can be fine, but if it’s swinging another hunter’s decoys or messing with their hunt, that’s not your shot to take.
What to do instead: Know your shotgun, gauge and range. Practice patience, and always consider the ethics of the shot you’re about to take.
2. Constantly calling
We obviously love a good duck call here at Slayer. But there is such a thing as too much.
We’re all excited to bust out our gear and try new calls. But if you get to the blind, pull out an assortment of calls and whistles, and huff on them until you burst a blood vessel, you’ve veered into “too much” territory. Unless the group has made you the designated caller, this isn’t a one-man show. And for pete’s sake, don’t high ball at those cupped greenheads.
What to do instead: If you’re hunting with buddies, give everyone a turn at calling ’em in. Be humble, and be judicious about when you call.
It’s just a fact that you can’t kill birds from your bed. (If you can, please send pictures.)
When other people are counting on you for morning duck hunting plans, it’s not the time to keep hitting snooze. Nothing is more aggravating for your buddies than sitting outside your house at 3 a.m., waiting for you to wake up or finish getting your gear together.
With all the planning for a successful hunt, changing the course of action at 3 a.m. can be tough. When your group has a sweet spot scouted and a rock solid plan, everyone involved is responsible for finding the will and motivation to make it happen.
If you’re already at duck camp, you’ve got to roll out of your sleeping bag on time or be OK with getting left behind. If you’re sleeping in for a later hunt, no grouching at the early risers.
What to do instead: Pack your gear the night before, get everything laid out for the morning and get up with your first alarm so you’re ready to go on time. Or make plans for evening duck hunts, when being an early riser isn’t required.
As a guy who grew up hunting timber, decoy spreads can either make or break you.
The fatal flaw of decoys in timber is overspreading. Throwing 12 dozen decoys in a pocket the size of a Honda Civic is a recipe for watching birds fly by all morning. It’s not the number of decoys you have that matters most for pulling ducks in — it’s how you set up your spread.
What to do instead: A good rule of thumb is to make sure everyone gets input on how to pitch decoys. Do some research ahead of time about spreads that work for your environment.
5. Flaring birds
Have you ever heard someone in the blind say “put your face down” or “get your head down”? They’re not just barking orders — they’re protecting the odds of finishing the flock.
Ducks are always on the lookout for danger, and if they detect something amiss, they’ll change direction and get the heck out of Dodge.
Human faces can flare incoming birds. Even if everyone is still, keeping your head turned toward the flock can signal danger to the sharp-eyed ducks. If hunters keep their heads down and listen, soon enough, the birds will be close enough it won’t matter if they see your face.
What to do instead: Minimize your movements, put your head down and keep your dog still when the ducks are flying toward your decoys.
How to get invited back on a duck hunt
Remember that when you’re hunting with friends, you’re part of a group activity. The more you do to help the group and be mindful of others, the more likely you are to get that return invite.
The unspoken rules for hunter etiquette may be different depending on who you’re hunting with, so pay attention to others’ behavior and what each group sees as acceptable.
Talk to some of the longtime hunters in your group to figure out what’s on their list of hunting “don’ts,” and ask your buddies for advice on how to improve your hunting skills and experience. And keep your ears open when other hunters in the group give you unsolicited advice — they’re trying to make sure you get invited back next time.