By Kristy Fike
Experienced waterfowl hunters often enjoy sharing their passion of decoying birds, wet dogs, and the social banter of the blind with others. However, they are used to all the elements of waterfowl hunting (cold weather, slow days, mud, etc.). With that, they often forget how much knowledge they have and should pass on to a new hunter to ensure their hunt is enjoyable and successful. Below are some ways you can make a first day of waterfowl hunting enjoyable for a newcomer to the sport.
- Avoid choosing a bitterly cold day to take someone on their first waterfowl hunt. Many experienced hunters are aware of the cold weather that can come with waterfowl hunting and are used to it. However, a first-time waterfowl hunter will likely focus more on the state of their numb body rather than the enjoyable aspects of waterfowl hunting (scenery, watching dogs working, working birds, etc.).
- Ensure there is bird activity in your waterfowl hunting spot prior to taking a new hunter on their first waterfowl hunt. The last thing you would want your new hunter to experience is a hunt without the opportunity to at least work birds. If you have a spot that often has a lot of bird traffic, but are unsure whether the birds will show due to a full moon, hard freezes, or snow, communicate that with the new hunter to see if they would still like to give the spot a try.
- Along the same lines, consider the nature of your hunting spot when planning a hunt for a new hunter’s first time out. Some waterfowl hunting spots may have a lot of bird traffic, but after one hunt, the birds do not feel safe coming back to the spot. In this case it may not be wise to choose that hunting spot.
- Set the first-time waterfowl hunter up for success by discussing with them the importance of patterning their shotgun, what choke and shells to use, where to aim on waterfowl, the importance of proper footing, and the necessary gear needed. Many experienced waterfowl hunters forget how much they know or how much they had to learn when they first started waterfowl hunting. It also wouldn’t hurt to bring a couple of extra handwarmers, a bottle of water, a granola bar, or an extra stool, just in case the new hunter forgets. You don’t have to be the new hunter’s caterer, but bringing a couple extra staples may help them have an enjoyable experience and can serve as a reminder of what they may need in the future.
- If planning for an all-day hunt, consider taking a break when the birds are most likely to slow down. Some hunters go to local cafes or restaurants in between their morning and evening hunts. This serves as a prime opportunity to continue fellowship and re-charge. This is especially ideal for young hunters, as all-day hunts can easily become more of a grind than enjoyable.
- Have proper hunting etiquette and be encouraging. Trying to take all the shots, poking fun at a new hunter if they miss, and screaming at your retriever, among other things, will only create a frustrating, tense, and undesirable hunting experience.
- Ensure you are carrying out ethical and legal waterfowl hunting practices. Aside from getting a ticket and possibly committing a federal crime, you are setting the example for a new hunter. If they continue to waterfowl hunt, they may think such practices are permissible and set themselves up for legal ramifications.
- Keep safety first and know when to call it a day. If the weather conditions become unenjoyable or even unsafe, call it a day. If you have a strong feeling that the new waterfowl hunter is not enjoying themselves or needs to leave, but is too prideful or polite to admit it, call the hunt.
- Teaching the hunter a few things about waterfowl hunting, especially if they want to take up waterfowl hunting, is an ideal way to keep them from twiddling their thumbs while you set up decoys or wait for birds to traffic in. You do not have to provide an encyclopedia’s worth of information, just tidbits here and there that are easy to recall and will set them up for success. For example, have them help set up the decoys and adjust their work as needed in a polite and educating way. Explain why you brushed the blind the way you did and why you set the decoys in the manner in which you did.
- Waterfowl hunting shouldn’t be about keeping score of how many birds are harvested. Show a new hunter on their first waterfowl hunt other aspects that truly make waterfowl hunting unique. Examples include the sunrise making all the decoys silhouette in the field, the star-filled sky that slowly fades while you put out decoys, and the meal(s) that are being put on one’s table. Take plenty of photos too! Photos that the new hunter can show others gives them a chance to relive and enjoy the experience without an expiration date.
It is imperative that experienced hunters consider how they can make a new waterfowl hunter’s first hunt enjoyable, as one’s first hunt usually determines if they will continue hunting. Those taking young hunters, are investing in the next generation of waterfowl hunters. If you are taking a new waterfowl hunter hunting for the first time, consider ways you can keep their hunt safe, legal, and enjoyable.