"Today should be a great hunt", I say to my hunting parter, who is also my father. "We are finally getting a cold front, and maybe some birds will be riding this North wind...."
...Two hours later, we are both scratching our heads and wondering why we have only seen 100 ducks, none of which seem interested.
This was the story for most of my hunts this season, and many other hunters that I have talked with have had similar luck. You can blame it on the unseasonably warm weather (blame El Nino?), you can blame it on too much water, you can blame it on too much hunting pressure/wise birds, you can blame it on conservation organizations, you can blame the government, you can blame etc...but the fact is, this season is one I will remember for a long time. I will not remember it for the multiple days of multiple limits like last season. I will definitely not remember it for all of the birds coming in while we were walking out with our kill for the day. This season will be remembered as the season that reminded me why I hunt waterfowl.
Each day I jumped out of bed when my alarm went off, eager to get to the field to see if the ducks would be there. Most days I was disappointed, but a couple days later, I repeated the process again. Each time that I rushed to an empty field, I was greeted by beautiful sunrises or sunsets. I paid attention to the natural world around me, and listened to other animals as they woke up or got ready to sleep. I took time from a busy schedule to spend a few hours with my father. I was reminded what duck hunting was about. Its not about the kill. It's not about a sky full of ducks forming a tornado over my field. It's not about getting a limit before most other fields have even shot. These things are great, but to really appreciate the good hunts, I am convinced that you have to have some bad hunts. The days where the most action is coming from the blackbirds flying over after a beautiful sunset are there to remind us to slow down, to enjoy the little things in life, to learn to be happy even when things do not go our way, and to motivate us to give it another try tomorrow. These things are much easier said than done, and it is sometimes hard for me to watch empty skies. However, this season has really helped reset my mindset to enjoy duck hunting like it should be.
Next time you have a terrible hunt, or even a terrible season, look around, take a sip of coffee, and enjoy the nature around you...you are, after all, in a position to be able to get out and hunt.
Below is a map from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's website that I frequently look at leading up to, and during our duck season here in Tennessee and Arkansas. As explained in the text, this is not an indication of mallard numbers, only their migration progression. I will update this map as it is updated on agfc.com.
Every week from late September to early February, more than 100 experts in North America's central flyway rank the progress of mallard migration in their areas. We compile their data to bring you a map showing the status of the mallard migration.
These rankings do not depict mallard abundance. They indicate the relative progression of the fall migration. Estimated peak numbers of mallards may be lower or higher than average numbers during previous years due to annual variations in local wetland and environmental conditions. As a result, a dark color does not necessarily mean that lots of mallards are present in that region
These maps depict real-time estimates of migration. Revised maps will be posted in February. Some variation in results may also occur depending on the number of experts reporting for a given week.
The mallard migration observation network was established as part of a broader project to use GPS satellite telemetry to better understand mallard movements, distribution, and habitat use. The rankings provided by participants this fall will be compared with the locations of mallards marked with GPS satellite telemetry units to help determine if mallards carrying the additional weight of a transmitter display normal migration behavior.
Duck season is coming soon. There is a long list of things that need to be done before opening day. One of the most important, and often overlooked, things is practicing your calling. Whether you are a seasoned caller, or just starting out, some practice before the season can make a huge difference. Following is a list of some tips that can help get your calling ready for the season.
Last time I showed you how I make the barrel of a duck call. This week, I am going to show you what goes into the insert. The insert is the most important part of a duck call, and the most challenging. Each call maker has many hours spent designing their insert, in order to produce the best sound possible.
The first step is to choose the blank that I am going to be using. Generally, I try to use a piece of wood that comes from the same piece as the barrell. This allows me to match the grains and colors, to have a nice uniform appearance.
After turning the blank round, I start to make the tenon for what will become the toneboard.
Once the tennon is turned to the correct size, I turn the insert around and mount it in the chuck in order to shape the exhaust end.
I turn the insert to the shape that I want, drill it, and sand it smooth.
After sanding, I apply the finish. I am using a CA finish on this call. CA, or cyanoacrylate, is basically super glue that provides a very glossy and durable finish.
After applying the finish, I buff it to a nice shine.
I sand and file the toneboard, cut the reed, and cut some cork to do the final tuning. Every little change that I make, changes the sound produced by the call.
The insert has been tuned and is ready to call in the ducks.
This week, I will take you into the world of call making. Below, you will find pictures and descriptions of the steps involved in making the barrel of the call.
The first step is to select and cut the piece of wood that I am going to be turning. I always try to find pieces that have interesting grain patterns in them.
Next at the drill press I drill through the blank. This hole is what the insert will fit into when I am done.
I mount the blank on my lathe...
...And turn it to a cylinder. At this point, I also go ahead and cut the tenon for the metal band. After this step, I usually let the blank rest over night. Wood likes to decompress after being cut.
I cut my own bands using metal pipes.
The bands are pressed and glued on, and again sit over night allowing the glue to dry.
After the glue dries, the bands are pinned on to guarantee that the band never falls off.
The pins are filed smooth.
Finally, I turn the barrel to its final shape.
I sand the call to a smooth finish.
After the call is sanded, I apply the finish. On this call I am applying cyanoacrylate glue, which is basicallly super glue. I apply 10-15 coats to provide a hard, durable, glossy finish.
Once the finish is applied, I buff the call to make it shine like glass. The following image is the finished barrel.
The barrel of the call is done at this point, and is waiting for an insert to complement it. Next time we will make an insert and toneboard.
Another season has come and gone. I have finally come to terms with the idea of waiting nine months to duck hunt again. But just because it’s months away, that does not mean I have to wait to prep for next season. Now is the time for me to focus my attention to cleaning and storing my hunting gear so it will be ready when I am next season. To keep me focused, I create a mental checklist: shot gun, decoys, and of course duck calls.
Duck season is over, but by getting some chores out of the way now, we have much more time and better performing equipment for the next season.
What are your favorite ways to spend the off season? Any tips on making the nine months go by quicker?