By Chris BathaHumans have been hunting for food for thousands of years, and as populations have increased, so has the need to harvest more. As a result, hunting skills have had to evolve to meet demands.
One of those food sources has been waterfowl. Realizing that ducks and geese are “birds of a feather,” hunters early on figured out that if large numbers of birds were concentrated in an area, they attracted other passing birds to join them.
The early efforts of these hunters were dusk and dawn ambushes, but they soon recognized that, because birds were drawn to large feeding flocks, if they used large numbers of decoys and live tethered birds, they could exploit the flock instinct and draw birds within range.
Early decoys were made from a variety of natural materials like reeds and grasses, but hunters quickly learned that the more lifelike decoys were, the better they worked. Efforts to improve looks included weaving feathers into the decoys; however, these grass-and-feather decoys were very fragile.
So decoys eventually evolved from early rudimentary designs to superb hand-carved and painted wooden blocks. The latter often were used in large numbers and strung together to create decoy armadas that would lure waterfowl from great distances.
The first and best skill to master when waterfowling is to sit still.
The newer lifelike decoys together with the use of caged and tethered birds enabled market gunners to harvest ducks and geese in enormous numbers—and this combined with habitat loss impacted waterfowl populations.
The decline in waterfowl numbers did not go unnoticed, and in the early 20th Century the passage of the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 marked a major change in the harvesting of ducks and geese. That said, the decoying techniques that had been perfected became the blueprint for today’s waterfowl hunters. In fact, live decoys, both tethered and caged, were still used until 1935.
Today’s decoys make full use of modern manufacturing and materials. There are many choices available, including cutout silhouettes printed with amazingly lifelike imprints of ducks or geese. Full-body decoys are even capable of swimming, splashing and flapping their wings.
These quality reproductions used in conjunction with realistic calls and excellent shotguns and ammunition account for many a duck and goose in hunters’ larders.
Of course, success depends on more than equipment, and waterfowlers must do their parts in terms of connecting shot with birds. This involves putting in the practice time necessary to shoot well—practice that should include shooting from the positions one expects to find oneself in during the season, such as seated and standing. It also is essential to practice in the clothing that will be worn and to avoid bulky coats that may inhibit a clean gun mount.
Safety-wise, hunters sharing a blind should all agree to shoot from either a sitting or standing position. To do otherwise and shoot from different positions invites accidents. Another word of caution: Hunters sharing a blind should know their safe arcs of fire and stick to them.
The first and best skill to master when waterfowling is to sit still. A duck or goose’s eyes are on the side of its head in order to give it a wide range of vision and the ability to see near and far simultaneously. Fidgeting or mounting a gun in a rush is the equivalent of waving a semaphore flag and will result in birds flaring.
Where possible, I like to be seated on a bucket with a rotating seat. This allows me to read the speed and direction of the approaching bird, and then swivel, getting my feet into the right position to be able to smoothly mount the gun into my shoulder pocket and cheek. This smooth, slow rise avoids spooking the approaching bird every time.
A more awkward shooting position is that experienced in a layout blind. Many good shots accustomed to shooting from the “rise and stand position” can struggle in a layout blind. Even though most layout blinds have raised, padded backrests, the move of sitting up from one’s back can cause even the best shots to have a tough time achieving a smooth rise and gun mount. The sitting-up action is made even more difficult by not being able to use the arms, which are busy maneuvering the shotgun.
As in all wingshooting, it requires practice to master the layout technique. I recommend the purchase of a layout blind with spring-loaded trap doors and a padded backrest and to add grasses as additional cover. “Prior planning prevents poor performance,” and in this case you need to work on the core muscles used when sitting up from the lying position without using your arms.
In a safe environment, with your empty shotgun in hand, place one or two pillows at the same height as the backrest in the layout blind. Lie back on the pillows with the empty shotgun on another pillow between your knees, with the muzzle extended several inches past your feet. Practice sitting up using only your stomach muscles while you raise your gun with your arms, so that when your back is erect, your shotgun is properly mounted in your shoulder.
Like any strength-training exercise, start slowly, working on a smooth sit-up and gun mount, and increase the number of reps as you progress. Once you can sit up and mount the gun smoothly, then you can add rotating the muzzle left and right using the lines of the wall and ceiling to trace flight lines.
With proper practice and the benefits of modern gear, waterfowlers will enjoy the weight of many ducks and geese on their game straps this season.