The 3 Rules of Waterfowl Hunting (And What Happens When You Break Them)

Photograph by John Hafner

One of the best things about being an outdoor writer is that you can monetize failure. When you screw up you can at least ease the pain by writing about it and earning some money, which is what I am going to do right now.

The other evening I broke one of the important rules of waterfowl hunting and got burned for my trouble. A wise guide in North Dakota once told me his three rules for waterfowling success, which are among many hunting rules I try to abide by:

1. Scout fields yourself. Don’t rely on second-hand intelligence.

2. If you think it’s time to pick up and move, move. Don’t wait.

3. Never leave your decoys.

They’re all good. I’m fine with #1, I don’t have too much trouble following #2, but I struggle with #3, which is too bad, because it’s an excellent rule. I know that, but still have to break it every once in awhile to be reminded of its importance.

I set up for the evening wood duck shoot, trusting that the weather man had it right and the clouds would come back around 5:00 and darken the sky enough to send the wood ducks to roost before the end of shooting time. The clouds didn’t come back. Usually when that happens, you either get a shot or two right at sunset or, more often, you see nothing until 10 minutes after the end of shooting time, then there are ducks everywhere.

Having thrown out my five decoys and set up my spinner, I checked my watch and decided I had more than enough time to walk two hundred yards and check the other pond before I sat down to wait for dusk.

So I did, and, as you might have guessed, three beautiful, fat drake wood ducks jumped out of my decoys and flew away when I returned. Those were the only ducks I saw until 10 minutes after shooting time, when all the rest arrived.

So, having relearned Rule #3 the hard way early in the season, I should remember to obey it for the rest of the year.

That’s my confession. I will bet I’m not the only one here who relearns important hunting rules by breaking them every once in a while. Anyone else care to share a hunting rule (doesn’t have to be a duck rule) they keep learning the hard way?