Who doesn’t like to say “I shot my limit?”

Surveys I’ve read suggest hunters are satisfied with their experience when they bag a limit, regardless of how many birds a limit consists of. Some years ago our DNR, in a stroke of genius, made the limit for our youth pheasant weekend one bird a day instead of the usual three. That way you can take a kid out, kill a bird in about an hour and be done. The hunt ends quickly, while the young hunter is still having fun, and it’s a 100% success.

While I, like anybody else, love coming home early with a limit, the more I do this, the less I care about shooting all the birds the law allows. Our dove limit is 15. I’ve shot a lot of limits in the few years we have had a dove season, but on some of my most memorable hunts I’ve only shot 8 or 9 birds.

And, I would rather shoot a few birds less than a limit and not cripple any than shoot a limit and lose a bird. Some hunters count lost birds against their limits, which is admirable, although I never have. It’s something to aspire to, I guess.

For a lot of hunters, limiting is competitive. Shooting a limit isn’t enough. If someone shoots out in half an hour, you can one-up them if you shot out in 25 minutes. If their crew shot a six man limit, you can beat them with a seven-man limit, all of which misses the point that hunt quality can’t be measured by kill quantity.

Last Monday afternoon I got out for an afternoon teal hunt and lucked into a big migration day. I saw thousands of ducks, and several flocks numbering in the hundreds. One of those flocks dropped into my decoys, and I had the thrill of seeing 200 blue winged teal try to land about 15 yards from my sparse little willow blind. I probably could have killed a limit with one shot by picking a duck in the middle of the bunch, and raining out a few collateral teal, but I contented myself with picking off the last duck in line.

If I had been less conservative with my shots or if I wanted to stay longer I could have filled a six-duck limit and in younger years I probably would have done just that. As it was, I had four when I decided to quit and had no regrets about stopping short of a limit at all. It was one of best duck hunts I have been on in a long time. The day reminded me of what Field & Stream’s former conservation editor George Reiger used to say. He wrote about waterfowling but I think the sentiment applies to all bird hunting: “Hunters want the opportunity to see lots of birds and take a few.”

And, if “a few” means you shot less than a limit, it doesn’t really matter much.