Now I know this is sacrilege to the duck hunting elite: The people who have enough money to build their own duck disneylands designed specifically to attract mallards. The people eternally posting photos on Facebook of the seven greenheads they got that day. The prestigious guide I hunted with once who growled that in 40 years, no client had ever killed a spoonie on a hunt with him. That statement was a bit menacing, actually; I had the feeling I’d be fitted with concrete waders and dropped into a deep spot in that pristine marsh if I spoiled his record.
But I don’t generally travel in those circles, and I know I’m not alone. With rare exceptions, I hunt public land in Northern California’s Sacramento Valley, where we are blessed with a wide variety of ducks that have been feeding, for the most part, on rice. Sometimes you get a stanky spoonie, but more often you get spoonies that taste just fine because they prefer rice over crustaceans, given the choice.
It’s not just about taste, though. The reality is that the duck gods just don’t like snobbery, and if you pass on a spoonie, you’ll come under their gaze and they’ll reach down and whisk all the ducks into another part of the marsh and you will not get one more bird that day. I know from experience.
2. If you’re shooting well, shut the eff up. This is one rule I tend to follow pretty closely because I know that speaking about a good streak of shooting is like saying out loud that a baseball game is a no hitter before it’s actually over. You just don’t do it.
But my boyfriend doesn’t – for some reason he just can’t stop himself. “Wow, I’ve just gotten three birds in a row.” Or “Wow, every bird I’ve gotten today has been with one shot.” Or “Wow, I’ve killed every bird I shot at.”
When he does that, I give him my best bemused expression and say, “Wow, you never learn, do you?”
Without fail, every time he remarks on his excellent shooting, the duck gods see that hubris and they reach down and put just the slightest little bend in his barrel and yuk it up for a while until he expresses proper regret.
3. Know your good luck charm. This is different for everyone, but I can tell you that mine is a little plastic container of pepperoni beef sticks from Costco. When I started bringing this stuff out to the marsh, it was amazing how the mere act of grabbing one of these things out of my bag would bring ducks in.
I remember vividly the day that, mid-chew, a flock of pintails flew right over our blind. I totally suck at overhead shots, but that time I nailed a gorgeous bull, nearly choking on that beef stick as the recoil knocked it around in my throat.
That was a great season, and I’m pretty sure it was in large part due to the fact that whenever things slowed down, I’d grab a beef stick and wave it around as if I was Hermione casting a spell at Hogwarts, and I’ll be damned if we wouldn’t spot incoming ducks.
For some reason, though, last season I just wasn’t feeling the beef sticks, so I brought other snacks into the marsh. I still put one leftover beef stick from the previous year still in that plastic container, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the duck gods, and wouldn’t you know it I shot like absolute crap for most of the season?
I still have that beef stick in that plastic container in my blind bag, and yes, it’s getting moldy as hell. I’m kind of afraid to open it, to tell the truth. But I know that sometime between now and October 20 I have to not only bite that bullet, but get my butt back to Costco to get some fresh beef sticks and start gobbling them down as if I still love them. I’m gonna need to do it like I mean it, too. Yes, I can!
Will following these three rules to a T give me a better duck season? I’ll let you know on Jan. 27.
Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, photographer and college journalism lecturer who lives in Sacramento, California. You can see more of her work at hollyheyser.com.