I like to set goals at the beginning of every season. Some of them will be lofty and others simple enough to question are they even worth the breath. Regardless of their difficulty, goals give my season purpose. They are the driving force behind the days that I sit a little longer in the freezing rain. It’s what wakes me up in the middle of the season when I most desperately want to sleep in. They keep things interesting, they keep you focused, and, hell, they are half the fun.
- Become a Better Hunter
Just like every year, my first goal is always to learn more about the animals I wish to hunt. Whether it is habitat, behavior, or physical characteristics, doesn’t matter, I just want to learn. Over the past few years I have realized that most learning takes place after the fact or when you don’t even realize it. Let me clarify that. I learn almost solely after something significant has passed me by. An example, lets talk about a hunt that took place last year in one of Mississippi’s delta wma’s. Two buddies and I were set up in a flooded impoundment watching birds work and consistently land just beyond the dike in another zone. We found ourselves left with no choice but to call aggressively and shoot passing shots at any birds swinging out too wide over our side. At one point we had shot a bird that happened to fall on the dike separating our designated zones and I was sent to retrieve it. When I crested the hill I made note that all of the birds were sitting in open, deep water in the corners of the field. It didn’t dawn on me until that night that all of our decoys were sitting in six inches of water or less smack dab in the center. We didn’t look realistic, common sense could tell you that. But I couldn’t see it until I had time to go home and chew on it. I feel a little silly typing that now but sometimes things really are that simple.
I have learned other things as well, some of them by luck. Like where to be with a certain set of conditions at a certain time of year. There’s this one spot on a local river that, with the right front and the right time of year, can go from a complete ghost town to a mad house of ducks in a few hours. We were lucky enough to catch the beginning of it one afternoon just before calling it quits. My buddy and I made note of it and guess where we were come the next morning? That’s right, that spot and I’ve never had a better hunt on that river to this day. But maybe that story is more of a testament to staying out and observing more. Believe me, that is a huge lesson. I think back to all of the seasons I have gone in early on the crappy days when I should have been out riding looking for better opportunities. I can’t imagine all of the useful tips and great hunts I missed out on.
2. Spend More Time Outside
So, Yes, I want to spend more time scouting. We all should. It will make your hunts more productive and the learning curve a lot easier. But that’s not the only reason I want to spend more time outside. A big part of it is just for my soul, if you will. I started camping last year. I never did anything much bigger than an overnight stay, except the one long weekend at the gorge with some friends, but it was still time outdoors. I enjoy the campfire, the stars, the cold breeze, just the simplicity of it all. It’s rugged, its intimidating and at the same time its relaxing and refreshing. It makes me feel like I am doing something I was supposed to do. A simple way to get in touch with myself and out from under the heavy thumb of this congested world. So I want to scout more and I want to camp more, and maybe even mix the two together.
3. Kill a Mallard
Say what? Keep all of your judgmental thoughts to yourself for one second. I’m not talking about any ole mallard from any random spot. I want to kill a mallard from a particular river. Even more confused now? Ok, I’ll try to explain. So, this river that we sometimes hunt, well it sometimes holds some mallards. When I say sometimes, I literally mean they may be here today and gone tomorrow type of situation. They are rare, not like winning the lottery rare but maybe like your boss letting you leave early the day before the duck opener rare. It just doesn’t happen often. They’ve sort of become a goal of mine for the past couple of years. I have called them in and missed. I have watched them fly by, too astonished to react. I have even had them work the decoys only to have them fly away all because I was too picky about the shot. Bottom line is I have had some chances, and I know it can be done. So I want to do it.
4. Bag a Woodcock
The fuel for this fire got started last year all because of a picture posted on an online forum. What started off as a picture has quickly turned into a romanticized scenario played over and over in my head every time the idea comes up. The story is simple: Mollie, my german shorthaired, and I take off on in search of these little hidden wonders and in the process she becomes a polished bird dog and I, a noble bird hunter. Quite a feat for such a small bird, but they are pretty extraordinary themselves. Just looking at pictures of the bird screams refinement. He is rich in deep colors, like a fine aged oak. He olds himself up tall, his chest puffed up as he declares his “meeep” sound across the the forest floor. Even in flight, after you have taken a shot and missed, he flies in sort of a twirl to let you know he has proven to be the better opponent. I haven’t even killed one yet and I already find myself agreeing with Aldo Leopold when he wrote, “No one would rather hunt woodcock in October than I, but since learning of the sky dance I find myself calling one or two birds enough. I must be sure that, come April, there be no dearth of dancers in the sunset sky.” Unlike Mr. Leopold, I doubt I’ll be denting their populations anytime soon, but I sure do hope I get lucky enough to have a successful hunt or two.
5. Kill a Bird Worthy of Mounting
The wife and I agree that our living room wall is slightly off kilter by having just the black ducks hanging on one side without anything to put on the other. She has challenged me this year to kill something worth mounting and to get it done quickly. Lord knows we can’t get in the way of a woman and her decorating. I have all ideas that if I want to keep any mounts hanging on the wall at all I would be well served to keep her happy about the ones already up. Keeping her in fresh supply when she asks for more is not only a duty, but it could be the difference of having to go a lifetime with all of my mounts being designated to some “trophy” room. I hate the idea of a trophy room. I want my mounts to be out, for all of my guests and I to enjoy. Not in some room, where I must lead you so that we can linger there for a brief moment before returning back to a more common area. So, as you can see, I need to take a bird worthy of mounting. Maybe two.
6. Shoot a Wood duck Limit with a Beretta 686
I have been fortunate in a few areas of my life. One of them was marrying a woman who understood my love for hunting and the outdoors. This year that very sweet woman bought me the nicest gun I have ever owned, my Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon. She’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, the gun that is. (My wife is beautiful as well, but let’s just stay on topic.) The long 32″ barrels, beautifully etched receiver, and rich wood stock give her a pizazz that any gun aficionado can appreciate. But, for me, it is the smooth swing and function that make her a joy to handle. Given that she is almost entirely brand new, and very expensive, I can not bring myself to take her out on our trips to the salt water marshes. I will save my citori for that. She will, however, be my freshwater gun of choice. Barring any outright nasty weather conditions show up in the forecast. I can only hope that I will shoot a lot of birds this season with the new gun. Having said that, It would bring me a lot of joy just to take a limit of wood ducks with her this year in a small swamp on my grandfather’s farm.
Well that about sums it up for this season. Maybe my goals aren’t too far fetched after all. Only time will tell if the duck gods will be kind to us. Hopefully Mollie and I will be able to find a few wood cocks. I know it will be fun regardless. There’s so much to look forward to. Until then, its just one more day to prepare and day dream about the next hunt.
The beretta on opening day of dove season, 2016.