Avoid Repeating These Embarrassing Mistakes This Season
Prediction: You'll goof up once or twice this waterfowl season.
Everyone does it. We're human, after all, and mistakes are just part of the never-ending cycle of trial and error inherent in waterfowling. And in hindsight, some of our gaffes can be pretty funny.
Consider some of my favorite bone-headed blunders from 38 years of chasing ducks and geese.
Everyone's been here. You're in the haze of battle, with several birds already on the water as another flock banks and pitches in. You rise to shoot. Click. In all the excitement, you forgot to reload.
I've done that a lot, but the worst example occurred years ago during a Wisconsin goose hunt. I'd slogged more than a mile through tamaracks and a thick sedge meadow to reach a large river flat. At sunrise, a flock of honkers rose from the water and sped toward me, intent on some distant ag field. I rose to collect my easy double and quickly realized I'd left my shells in the truck.
That mile seemed a lot farther during the walk back.
Repeat after me: Never trust a fuel gauge in a boat.
Two friends and I were hunting a big-water point when the wind changed direction and kicked up. Figuring we'd better pull our rig and get off the water, one buddy jumped in his boat and fired up the motor. It quit before he'd traveled 10 feet. He restarted it. Same result, and the building waves started pushing his craft toward a rocky shoreline.
I don't get it, he said. I have half a tank of gas.
He then lifted the plastic tank, which, of course, was dry.
Another buddy soon rescued us with his 18-footer, and we chipped in a few bucks so Mr. Half-Tank could refuel his boat.
The Great Hide
Cover is critical, but so is mobility — especially if you plan to shoot anything.
I'd slipped into a pretty little North Dakota slough and hunkered down in a handy cattail bog. The bottom was mucky from cattle traffic at the water's edge, but I wedged my feet into the detritus and got ready for action.
Soon, a mixed flock of mallards, gadwalls and pintails topped the horizon and zipped toward my spread. I stood to shoot and, feet stuck in soupy virtual concrete, quickly fell on my butt with a splash.
After moving back a few feet to a more stable platform, I enjoyed a good shoot. And I chuckled about the tumble later … after cleaning all that black muck from my clothing.
I was finally hunting the promised land of South Dakota, and with flock after flock of mallards whirring overhead, I couldn't wait to get decoys in the water.
But something seemed amiss when I tossed out the first few blocks. Instead of moving with the wind, they stayed still and looked awkward. A quick check with my push-pole solved the mystery: My decoy lines were far too short.
Argh. It had been a wet year on the prairies, and the lake I was hunting reached 8 or 9 feet deep in spots. I'd brought my Wisconsin marsh decoys, which had 5-foot lines.
Thankfully, the anchors snagged on thick submergent vegetation, so the decoys didn't drift too much. And duck numbers were ridiculously good, so my spread didn't matter that much anyway. Still, I packed longer lines and extra cord during subsequent trips out West.
Crimes of Concealment
Nothing beats natural cover when field hunting. Just don't let the cover beat you.
A buddy and I had placed three dozen honker decoys in a central Wisconsin corn field and then giggled as we hid like ninjas under abundant stubble. The first birds of the morning locked their wings and descended, oblivious to our presence. I called the shot, flipped the stalks off to my left and made a nifty double.
Man, that was great, I yelled to my friend. How many did you get?
He didn't reply, but I knew the answer. Corn stalks and cuss words flew as he tried to uncover himself from the stubble I'd accidentally thrown over him. He hadn't fired.
When the next flock arrived, I was careful to nudge the stalks aside instead of flipping them violently. I'm sure my friend appreciated seeing geese in front of his barrel instead of corn.
Geese murmured on the water, preparing for their morning exodus. About 150 yards away, a friend and I hunkered below a ditch bank, ready to punch some tags. Soon, the flock lifted off, and my buddy and I dropped four birds. What a great morning. We could retrieve our honkers and head home in triumph.
Well … maybe. Remember that ditch? Most drainage ditches in Wisconsin marsh country are pretty doggone deep, and that one extends for several miles. And in our excitement, my friend and I had dropped the geese on the other side of that barrier.
Then I looked at our honker decoys floating in the ditch, and a dim lightbulb flickered.
Hey, let's bag up the decoys, I said. Then you can float on the bag, and I'll push you across.
For some reason, my buddy agreed. He clutched the decoy-laden bag to his belly and slipped to the water's edge. Then, I gave him a good shove and watched as he glided about 9 feet across. Trouble was, the ditch was 10 feet wide.
As if in slow motion, I watched my friend's backside start to dip and sink. Soon, he was flailing in the frigid water, scrambling for shore. Minutes later, four geese and multiple unprintable words flew across the ditch. Then, he hurled the decoy bag across, swam the ditch and emerged from the water soaked and frozen.
Can we go now? he asked.
I didn't say anything, but I made a mental note to forget the decoys and bring a dog next time.
Prone to Failure
I can laugh at these blunders now because they carried no great consequences. Serious mistakes, such as lapses in judgement or caution, are another matter. You'll never eliminate all errors while waterfowl hunting. Just try to avoid stupid gaffes. And when you inevitably make them anyway, dust yourself off, laugh about your foolishness and keep on hunting. Just remember to reload.