And how you can avoid following in my footsteps
Man, I try hard. I think ahead, anticipate scenarios, use my experience and listen to good advice. But some days, I still goof up.
That's part of the waterfowl hunting game, of course. Everyone makes mistakes, whether in their calling, shooting, decoy placement, boat handling or other considerations. The key is to avoid big mistakes and eliminate stupid gaffes while striving to overcome and minimize the small errors.
I'm here to help. Here's a brief list of blunders I've already committed during the 2016-'17 season. No, it's not a full list, and it's probably not the end of the list, either. But in hindsight, these mistakes stand out as good examples of pitfalls to avoid.
Shooting Off Balance
I'm guilty of this every year. It's not a problem when shooting from a sturdy, comfortable blind, and it can't be avoided when seated in a rocking boat. But when I hunker in natural cover, I always seem to pick a spot with uneven bogs or deep cattle hoof prints. Then, when I rise to shoot, I struggle for balance and sometimes whiff on an otherwise easy target.
Don't be me. Check your footing at every setup to make sure you have a stable base on which to stand. Practice rising, mounting your gun and swinging through a target. Avoid muck and uneven terrain. You'll shoot much better in a more controlled situation.
Cheating the Wind
Unless it's fairly calm, you must consider the wind when choosing a setup. More specifically, you have to anticipate how ducks will approach your spread and try to finish based on the wind at that location.
Some friends and I got a bit careless with that in South Dakota this past October. We chose to hunt a point ahead of a small bay where a southerly wind blew from right to left. When we reached the point, though, I noted that the wind was more southeast than south, putting it somewhat in our face. Birds might cut the point, but they'd likely finish while quartering away, to the outside of our spread.
But it had been a long walk, and ducks were filtering back into the slough, so we risked it. And yeah, we shot a fair number of ducks. However, we missed out on several nice flocks that, as predicted, finished a bit out of range.
Play the wind correctly. Mega-spreads and high-tech shotshells won't overcome a duck's natural instinct to land into a good breeze.
Having Too Much Cover
Concealment is critical for quality hunting, especially when pursuing pressured puddle ducks. But now and then, I dig myself so deep into brush, cattails or prairie grass that it hinders my ability to see and shoot.
Hide well, but don't get too crazy. Ducks will see movement or your shiny face before anything else, so stay still, and use a facemask or face paint. Also, get low, and make sure your silhouette blends with the background. If possible, conceal yourself from overhead ducks, too. Just don't wriggle into a cattail patch that's so thick you can see nothing but stalks when birds decoy.
Everyone's guilty of this. Hunting and scouting are tiring, and it's easy to get complacent. Maybe you convince yourself that setting up in a round bay will suffice, even though you know walking another quarter-mile to a point would work better. Or perhaps you don't think trudging 200 yards over a hilltop to glass a hidden marsh would be worthwhile, though you suspect secretly that it would be.
Hunt how you like, but remember that maximum effort usually produces optimum results. You can always rest during the off-season.
Sometimes, as a duck hunting mentor told me years ago, you just have to throw out and see what happens. Think through every scenario, and use your experience to predict situations, but don't talk yourself out of a hunt. You never know when a probably-not-going-to-happen deal turns into a memorable morning.
Even if it doesn't, you're better off for having tried, and you'll probably gain valuable insight. That always puts you one step closer to a better hunt in the future.