Statistics Don't Always Reflect Success Afield
One of the dangers of taking a waterfowl hunting trip is the inevitable question that follows when you return home.
How many birds did you get?
Everyone does that to some degree. It's part of our nature to measure success or enjoyment through numbers. It's also easy to slip farther down the slope and use those numbers to compare one hunter's trip to that of another. And when that happens, someone who took a few dozen ducks during a great flooded-timber swing might feel inadequate when so-and-so mentions that his buddies shot hundreds during a Canadian prairie sojourn. Suddenly, that enjoyable timber hunt might seem almost like failure.
I'm probably as guilty of that as anyone. Being a statistics nut, I've documented every duck and goose I've taken during the past 39 years. Further, I can rattle off the number of shells used to take those birds, the average number of birds bagged per day and several other ridiculously esoteric numbers that only mean something to me. I've never done it to brag (and honestly, some numbers from a few seasons aren't flattering). Really, it's just a way for me to compare the relative success of one season to another and review trends. If I ever started posting those stats on social media or dropping them at boat-landing conversations, I'd quickly realize that I sounded like an insecure newbie bent on impressing someone. I'd also be reminded that despite my best efforts, someone somewhere likely had a better season numbers-wise than I did. Never mind that hunting opportunities and situations vary — or that some folks can only consume a finite number of ducks and geese and remain vigilant about obeying laws on possession limits.
Those almost sound like excuses, and maybe there's a hint of truth there. Still, it seems like measuring the success of hunts, trips or seasons with cold figures does waterfowl hunting a disservice. Most guys mean no harm by keeping count, of course, but the measure of success should probably go somewhat deeper — perhaps into areas you can't compare on a spreadsheet.
So anyway, I just returned from a South Dakota swing and faced the innocent question from a friend: How many birds?
Hmm. Wave after wave of gadwalls piling into a wind-churned slough. About 75 mallards lined up on shore 10 yards away 10 minutes before shooting light. Agile ringbills slicing through a westerly breeze, air ripping through their wings. A snow-white pintail drake cupping into a back bay, visible at 100 yards. Snow and blue geese providing constant chatter in the distance every morning.
How many? I don't know. Just enough.