|Posted on April 10, 2013 at 12:35 AM|
Ducks on a Shoestring
I recently received this e-mail from an aspiring duck hunter who had just finished reading Camo Pajamas:
Dear Sir:……….I've been suppressing my new found addiction/love of hunting and conserving waterfowl because of the initial "start-up" costs. I don't need to repeat everything you already have written, but (suffice it to say) items that are supposedly needed are almost overwhelming.
I did, unfortunately, get sucked into the big box stores' marketing skills, and purchased items I would not have normally purchased (i.e., the latest camo clothing, Browning's new A5, fully flocked decoys, and custom made calls). Throughout my first season, though, I spent most of my time observing other hunters, asking questions, and actually doing very little hunting. Seeing this was my first year, I wanted to really know what it was like, and really determine whether or not I wanted to continue hunting waterfowl.
Happily, I'm continuing!!! But I've learned a few things along the way. (1) Camo is 100 percent overrated. Movement is crucial! Stay still! Just like you wrote, wear items that blend in with the surroundings, like browns, greens, and dark reds. But camo is NOT necessary. (2) Any gun will do fine. Buying the latest and greatest from Beretta or Benelli is not necessary. (3) Decoys are important, but fully flocked decoys are not. Keep the cheap ones clean, and they'll last years.
I purchased Browning's new A5 in October. By December, I was using my grandfather's old Remington Model 31 instead of the new A5, and had then sold the A5 by January. For me, there is nothing better than the old school ways … guns included.
Waterfowling, I believe, is an art much more than a science. And it's surely a gift and blessing that we're able to participate in such a wonderful sport. I've now read all of your posts, and look forward to new ones with earnest. Thank you, Ron, for all you've done and are doing for the sport of waterfowling.
The waterfowl prediction for 2012 was UP, but the number of sportsmen hunting ducks and geese was predicted to be DOWN. The trend is likely to continue. The economy is unstable, and the image of our sport is “EXPENSIVE”. $12,000 for a boat, motor & trailer. $1500 for a collapsible boat blind. $1200 for a puppy you'll have to train. A waterfowl gun which is camo from muzzle to butt plate...at just a scosche under $1500.00. And you haven't even looked at the prices for an e-collar, camo vest and portable dog blind for Duke, plus a quad parka, waders, hat and decoy gloves for dad. Oh, my gosh, I almost forgot....$100.00 for bumpers and $500.00 for decoys, anchors and cords. Let's just throw in the vet bills for the dog along with the cost of the waterfowl calls and non-toxic ammo...a paltry $1000.00. Did I mention $200 for a battery powered, remote control, spinning decoy carousel ? You could probably get into a modern duck hunting outfit for under $17,000.00 But wait, the wife is putting the bottle return money away for the new carpet. Maybe you should just forget about the ducks and the dog. Instead, dig the old 22 out of the closet and hunt squirrels.
A decline in the number of waterfowl hunters has been going on for at least four decades, but most of that can be attributed to a gradual decline in the duck population. Then in the 90's, Steel shot regulations and reduced bag limits further complicated the picture. But what cannot be fully explained is the continued decline in duck hunting numbers (1.5 million in 2001-1.1 million in 2009-2010) in light of a recent resurgence in the duck populations and a relaxation of bag limits. Conjecture is that the sport has developed an image of being more expensive than alternative outdoor hunting options, and at a time when discretionary funds for most sportsmen are at a premium.
But sportsmen who have hunted for decades will tell you that duck hunting doesn't have to be expensive. Let's take a look at the basics, and see how new hunters can get into this uniquely satisfying sport without mortgaging the farm.
The Duck Blind
For years Dick and I built our blinds from natural materials. We found a location where ducks naturally want to congregate for feed and rest, then located the blind accordingly. The framework for the blind we use now is made from reclaimed lumber. Specifically, treated and well weathered boards from a deck renovation behind my home. The lumber was used for a short walkway, flooring, bench seating, front concealment and roof. We then used pine and cedar boughs trimmed from trees on shore to blend in with the natural surroundings. If you can't see your blind from 50 yards, then you know you've done a good job. The annual recovering project costs us nothing but our time. We went the expensive, commercial “boat blind” route one year, and found it lacking. The blind looked like an RV parked along the shore from 300 yards...and it didn't fool many ducks.
Let's start by saying you don't need it. They plaster it on just about every item a duck hunter buys these days. There's camo on the dog vest, blind bag, thermos, lantern, rubber boots, life preserver, hat, coat, pants, and the list just goes on. Listing the items that don't have camo on them is much simpler. They make it sound like you couldn't possibly have a successful duck hunt without an expensive, patented camouflage pattern on everything from your pajamas to your DU wallet. Before WWII, waterfowlers didn't have camo on anything....and they killed more ducks than we could ever dream of. Do a good job of building your blind from natural materials that match your surroundings, and none of your hunting accessories need camouflage. When you jump up to shoot a duck in range, it won't be the lack of camo on your gun that flares the ducks. But if you lay your gun down in the brush while you're trying to locate your kill, the camo just might keep you from recovering your gun.
My grandfather used a Fox Sterlingworth in '42, but you can bet the duck blinds of America were full of Winchester model 12's, Ithaca 37's, Remington 870's and Browning A-5's. Most of these old guns are available in 12 gauge for far less than the cost of the latest and greatest waterfowl gun. If the gun you select has 2 ¾ inch chambers, make sure you buy ammunition to match. I'll be recommending steel shot, so you'll want to have a qualified gunsmith confirm that your gun can safely shoot steel, and install an I.C. or Modified steel safe choke tube if necessary. Companies like O.F. Mossberg still make 12 gauge pumps at a very affordable price.
When steel replaced lead over two decades ago, it got a bad rap. Everyone knows that steel is less dense than lead, and doesn't deform. The result is a load that requires larger shot propelled at higher velocities. And the patterns are denser, reducing the margin for error. Hunters claim that steel cripples too many ducks....and it does if you try to shoot them out of range. Ammunition manufacturers have conveniently created non-toxic substitutes which have the density and killing efficiency of lead...but at a price. That price is about $3.00 per shell, as compared to 50 cents for a round of steel. Buy shot sizes 2, 3 or 4, and shoot your ducks inside 35 yards, and you will kill just as many ducks with the cheap stuff as you will with the high priced alternatives. Continued in Part II.
*Please watch for my upcoming blog on steel shot evaluation, in which I do a comparative pattern analysis of Kent vs. Fiocchi Steel Ammunition. I think you'll find it enlightening.