We learn lessons throughout our hunting lives. Some we learn right away, others we have to learn again and again, until we learn them the hard way. Then, finally, we take the lesson to heart. It’s the difference between reading “Caution: burners may be hot” in your oven manual and pressing your hand against the red hot coil.

For instance, I have learned the hard way that you have to seat a percussion cap firmly on the nipple of a blackpowder rifle if you want it to go off when there’s a buck walking broadside 20 yards in front of your stand. I have learned, (again, the hard way) that it’s a good idea to check and be sure your gun is in its case and not lying by the side of the road before you drive almost an hour home from a dove hunt.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about hiding from game. I admitted then that I knew I could be lax about hiding sometimes but I didn’t think I needed to do anything to change my behavior. This week I finally learned the hard way that I need to pay more attention to concealment. A friend and I decided to hunt a river sandbar for geese. The sandbar is half a mile from a locked gate so we had to haul our stuff in by four-wheeler. It took six trips and we still had to carry decoys through the woods a ways.

We set up a great sandbar spread: 18 floating decoys, about two dozen sleeper shells, and a dozen and a half fullbodies at the water’s edge. When we were done, it looked like one big, happy extended goose family hanging out and loafing on the bar. We had decided, actually, my partner had, (I am throwing him under the bus here), not to bring layout blinds. Instead we built a blind out of brushwood and sat in low chairs. I thought we looked a little exposed, but there was enough driftwood piled behind us to break up our outlines so I figured it if we sat still it would be good enough and besides, geese would be looking at the decoys on the bar, not at us up on the bank.

Then we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Most geese we saw were headed elsewhere. Those that flew over us ignored our spread completely. Finally at 1:15, approximately six hours after we sat down, a pair of geese split off from a flock, locked their wings, and sailed down into our trap. They were close enough to landing to drop their feet. Then, about two seconds before we would have started shooting, they saw us. Their eyes bugged out, they flared hard, and flew away.

That was it. For the next hour and a half we picked up six four-wheeler loads of decoys and hauled them back to the trucks while kicking ourselves. No one minds picking up decoys after a good hunt, but it’s a chore if you’ve sat for six hours and blown your only chance of the day through poor hiding. This time, though, I learned my lesson for good, and I learned it the hard way: hide better.