(And where you might fit in these categories)
Until you share a blind or field with someone, you don't know what kind of waterfowl hunter he or she is.
You'll get some hints here and there, of course. And cell-phone or social-media pictures can provide clues about the type of campaign those folks enjoyed. But until you actually throw out decoys together and trade jokes as the sun rises, you're left guessing about a person's true hunting colors.
Often, it seems that encounters or conversations during the off-season leave us with distinct impressions about other waterfowl hunters. Then, based on our limited knowledge of those people, we categorize them into groups.
You've probably met some hunters who seemingly fit neatly into those classifications. Here are a few I've encountered during the off-season.
There's no shame in being inexperienced, of course. Everyone was at some point. But sometimes, you can tell after a brief chat that a person hasn't hunted that much or lived through various situations.
I typically like these guys. They're often hungry, motivated and eager to learn — maybe a bit like I was 30 years ago. Usually, I'll talk to these folks as long as possible, and if I can offer a bit of advice without seeming like a know-it-all, I try to do so.
This dude's duck season stunk. It was horrible. Just ask him. He doesn't know what the problem is where he hunts, but it has sucked the past few seasons. These complaints are often accompanied by several jabs at the state wildlife agency.
I'd never doubt this fellow, as it's possible to experience a bad waterfowl season. Trust me, I've done it. But really, duck and goose hunting always throws us curves, and how we react and adapt to those change-ups often determines our success.
There's no harm letting this guy cry in his beer, but you leave wondering whether he should find new spots or try fresh approaches.
This guy had an awesome duck season. It was epic. Just ask him. He and his buddies piled up birds from the opening bell through the final day. And he crushed every duck he shot at. Again, just ask him. He'll probably re-enact several shots for you, complete with poom-poom-poom sound effects.
Hey, I have no problem with exuberance. And it's possible the dude enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime year, so good for him. Maybe I can learn a thing or two from his success.
Still, you wonder about his sincerity. If you run into him 10 years from now and he's still pounding his chest, you might wonder if he's prone to exaggeration … or hunting over cracked corn.
No matter how many birds this fellow shot, he always had a great year. Watching the sun set, seeing waves of migrating geese pass over or just sharing time with buddies was reward enough.
It's always a pleasure talking to this gentleman. He's lived the life, and he gets it. Secretly, you suspect that he's probably passed up more ducks and geese than you'll ever shoot, but he's too polite to brag about that. I let this guy ramble on as long as he wants, knowing I'll learn something and hear great stories in the process.
Young or old, this fellow lives the waterfowl hunting life. He's into it, and he doesn't need to brag for that to be evident. He'll tell you if he had a good season — but only if you ask. Conversely, he'll shrug his shoulders at a tough year, probably only describing several ways he overcame those speed bumps. It's a good bet this dude collects decoys, trains dogs and can tear down and reassemble his duck gun in seconds. He is all hunter.
Where Do You Fit?
We cannot easily categorize people after a few conversations, of course. That's pretty presumptuous. Still, let's agree that we've encountered hunters who display traits similar to those exhibited by our five fictional folks.
Me? I hope I lean toward being the lifestyler. At times, even after almost 40 years of waterfowl hunting, I'm still the newbie, and that's good. I never want to be the whiner or the stacker. I probably dabbled in the latter category when I was young, but I quickly learned that boasting comes back to bite you — always. And I'm probably not yet in the vet category. I can see myself sliding that way in a few years, but we'll see.
In the meantime, feel free to categorize me any way you'd like. Hopefully, I'll be too busy chasing ducks and geese to notice.