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New Guy, By Doug Larsen

By Doug Larsen, For The Retriever Journal.

I have been duck hunting for so long, that somewhere in the second half of the season, I just function on reserve power.  I have tried over the years to do everything according to some sort of system, and that seems to help me.  Duck hunting these days requires so much “stuff” that it is important I find the dog food in the same place, the waders on the same rack, and the truck keys in the same pocket, hunt after the hunt- so I don’t get fouled up. I go through a little checklist every time I go out. I figure, if it works for pilots, it must be a good way to stay organized. 

Despite this careful organization, I made it about three miles down the road one night in December. I had carefully packed the truck with some particular decoys, gas for the boat, waders, boots, and everything I had on the list. Dog in the dog box, ammo in the toolbox, license in my wallet. But going through my list in my head, I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something. That was when I turned around and went back to the house to get a shotgun. I thought that might come in handy on a duck hunt.

Times like those make me wonder what it would be like if I was a new hunter just starting out-so much of my knowledge is almost muscle memory built up over the years. I cannot imagine trying to become a duck hunter in 2019 without a mentor who isn’t some combination of Nash Buckingham, a federal warden, and a minister, as it seemingly takes years of experience, a knowledge of the laws and policies, and some faith in order to even be remotely successful. 

I sometimes imagine a conversation with a new hunter, and what it would be like to explain even the simplest things…. 

– New Guy: I’m excited-the 60 days season starts October 15- so it must end December 15?  

ME: No, it starts October 15, but there is a split from October 30 to November 12. Then the season runs to Christmas.  If that sounds complicated-check Arkansas, they have two splits.

– New Guy: Speaking of Arkansas, I saved up for one of those new spinning wing decoys. I bought it from a mail-order company in Arkansas.

ME: They are only legal in some states, and this is not one of those states. Sorry, but it will sell like a hot cake on e bay.

– New Guy: I found a great spot. I am seeing lots of ducks there. I looked online and it says the various units are open to hunting.

ME: They are, but it is a draw area. Every morning they have a lottery at 4:30 am for the different units. Usually, about 50 guys show up for 20 places, except during the week when it is a little slower. 

– New Guy: So, what do you do if you don’t get drawn at 4:30? 

ME: Eat an early breakfast.

– New Guy: (laying a stringer of ducks on my garage floor) Check it out. I shot my limit of ducks. 

ME: No, you didn’t, you shot six mergansers. Actually, the merganser limit is six, but of the six, only two may be hooded mergansers. The regulations recommend (in fine print) that you don’t eat them, because they may be slightly toxic. By the way, those are the first mergansers ever to enter my garage. It already smells funky in here. 

– New Guy: But I did pretty well, right? I managed to kill six ducks. 

ME: Well, actually you killed six mergansers. They have their own limit. 

– New Guy: You mean because they are divers, they have a separate limit? 

ME: No, the divers are regular ducks and they are included in the duck limit.  You can shoot bluebills, but only two, and either one canvasback or one redhead, but the canvasbacks are only open in the second half of the season- plus the other ducks, but no more than four mallards, only two of them can be hens, plus wood ducks-no more than three of those and only two black ducks, and only two pintails. There is also a limit for coots, but be careful that if you shoot at a coot you don’t make a mistake and shoot a grebe. Finally, there are the mergansers, which is what you have here. That is a separate thing. Think of them as little flying dinosaurs. I need to get you a good bird book. 

– New Guy: That sounds weird. The merganser thing. 

ME: Not as weird as your house is going to smell if you cook them. 

– New Guy: The duck hunting here is hard and lousy-I want to take a road trip to a southern state. 

ME: Good for you. Make sure to go on the specified dates when non-residents are allowed to hunt public areas. Also, on some of them, they don’t allow motors, on others, there is a 25hp limit. Some allow only one box of shells. Sometimes you cannot go in until a specified hour in the morning, and you have to be back at the ramp before noon. It is all spelled out in the regulations. But figuring out all the regulations is worth it if you like fried catfish and funnel cakes. Have a great trip!

– New Guy: The duck thing is too complicated. I am going to try goose hunting.

ME: Good for you. It is a lot of fun. You can get by with about five dozen decoys and a layout blind, and a good call. You could get started for under $2000.  You can shoot 15 per day in the early season, but then when the real season opens up, you can only shoot three. 

– New Guy: Two thousand dollars? Ouch. But why are the limits so different? 

ME: Because they are different geese that you are shooting. 

– New Guy: But they are all Canada Geese. These are the same geese in September as they are in October. They are not White fronts or Snow geese.

ME: That is correct. They are the same kind of geese, but they are from different places. You can also shoot five White-fronted geese but we don’t have any here, but the season is open for them. And, you can shoot 20 snow geese, but after the season closes a new season opens allowing you to shoot as many as you want.

– New Guy: The snow goose thing sounds fun.

ME: It is super fun, but you need a thousand decoys, 6-8 strong friends who hate sleep, and if you want to have decent land access, you should have six wives-and they should all be farmer’s daughters. Focus on a swath of real estate somewhere between Northern Arkansas and the Dakotas.  

– New Guy: I think this thing would be more fun if I got a dog. Maybe a lab?

ME: Great idea! Having a dog will change your life for the better. Would you like a male or female? British or American? Black, Yellow, Silver, Fox, Chocolate, or maybe just get a Chesapeake-they only come in one color. 

– New Guy: This waterfowl thing is so complicated. I’m not sure it is for me. What do you know about Fly Fishing?

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