When All Else Fails, Shoot Your Decoys

By Phil Bourjaily October 4-5 was Iowa's Youth Waterfowl Hunt. The feds allow states to set a two day season before or after the regular duck season for hunters under 15 accompanied by unarmed adults. It's a wonderful way to get kids out. Way too few people take advantage of it; we always have the local public marsh to ourselves. It's been a tradition at my house since my older son turned 12, seven years ago. It takes some effort to get today's overscheduled kids into the field. The boys in this photo, my son John (in the tie) and his friends Mike and Michael, had to miss Saturday's hunt. They had a football game in the morning, and a homecoming dance in the evening. Here they are trying on my extra waders about midnight after the dance the night before our Sunday morning hunt.Phil Bourjaily
Smart outfitters will tell you they know they can't control what the animals do, but they can make sure the beds are soft and the food is good. My wife made a coffee cake and we cooked sausage and grits for the boys at 4:00 am. Later, there will be plenty of time for them to learn about rolling out of bed, grabbing a cold Pop Tart and going hunting. For this hunt, though, we made the extra effort.Phil Bourjaily
Mike waits for shooting time. Rather than a big production, we kept this hunt simple. We walked in with three dozen decoys and marsh seats to a wetland that wood ducks, teal, and a few mallards had been using.Phil Bourjaily
The only ducks of the hunt. Dan, who joined us with his father at the marsh, shot a double on wood ducks at first light. One of them was banded. How cool is that for a 15 year old?Phil Bourjaily
Michael guards the hole from ducks that never show. Our youth day is always set a week or two in advance of the second split opener. Usually we've had a good flight by then, but this year has been unseasonably warm. I spent the week scouting and found very little. This hole, our best bet, didn't work out. The teal that had been there all week were elsewhere that morning.Phil Bourjaily
What to do when the birds don't cooperate? Take frequent breaks for hot chocolate and M&Ms.; If I've learned anything about guiding youth hunts, it's that a large quantity of snack food improves any outing.Phil Bourjaily
Simple truth: kids want to shoot their guns when they go hunting. In the absence of real ducks, we sacrificed a couple of decoys for the cause. With younger kids especially, letting them shoot a decoy can totally save a slow, boring day when the ducks don't fly.Phil Bourjaily
It takes a lot of shooting to completely sink a decoy, but it can be done.Phil Bourjaily
Michael examines his handiwork. I sent both Mike and Michael home with ventilated decoys - John has one from a busted hunt on Thanksgiving with his older brother a couple of years ago.Phil Bourjaily
There's lots for young hunters to learn about waterfowling even when there aren't any ducks. We had lessons on how to set decoys, where to sit and hide, how to use the wind and sun to your advantage, how to pick up decoys and wrap anchor lines so they don't tangle. They also learned how to throw decoys so they splash the guy holding the bag, who then throws a decoy back, splashing the guy who threw the decoy, which then turns into a decoy splash fight.Phil Bourjaily
We head home, total bag being two wood ducks and two plastic ones. In retrospect, I should have brought more decoys to take advantage of all these strong young backs. I've carried plenty of decoys for kids over the years. Pretty soon it will be their turn to carry decoys for me.Phil Bourjaily
Nathan (right) with my son John. No one in Nathan's family hunts, but he and I never missed a youth duck or pheasant hunt from the time he turned 12. We had some great hunts together, and those early days in the field hooked him for good. Now a college sophomore, he came along to hang out and help with the guide chores, leaving me with a large warm and fuzzy feeling.Phil Bourjaily