Roger Phillips: Good waterfowl hunting not just about birds

Etiquette plays a major role in being a good outdoorsman, no matter the activity.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comOctober 24, 2013 

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Waterfowl hunting is an experience that can be marred by overly aggressive people who spoil things for others.

ROGER PHILLIPS — rphillips@idahostatesman.com

Duck season opened Oct. 12. I was lucky to have a great hunt. My buddy and I both got our limits, Dusty did great retrieving birds, and it was a really fun day.

I also heard reports about snotty hunters who set up too close to others, behaved rudely, and basically spoiled days for others.

There are a lot of unwritten rules and gray areas when it comes to waterfowl hunting, but part of the ethics is treating your fellow hunters with respect.

For example, no one owns a blind on public land, but if someone took the time and effort to build one, why would you try to take it on opening day?

It's common sense to assume the person is going to use that blind. But what about a month later, if it has been sitting empty?

I would feel a little weird using it because I didn't build it, and I don't know the guy's schedule who did. But technically, it's fair game for any hunter to use, and building a blind doesn't make you a landlord. That situation is a gray area.

Then there's setting decoys too close to someone else's spread. How far is far enough?

That's another gray area, and at a wide-open area such as the Snake River, too close might be defined differently than at a congested area such as Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area near Parma.

There's also the experience factor. Places such as Fort Boise are often where waterfowlers get their start. They haven't learned some of the etiquette involved with duck hunting, but hopefully they will figure it out if people around them set good examples.

But if you're out on the Snake River in a boat fully rigged for waterfowl hunting, you've probably been doing it long enough to know what's acceptable and unacceptable.

It all boils down to basic common courtesy. Treat others as you would like to be treated, and at the same time, realize that competition between hunters is part of duck hunting.

The birds are concentrated in certain areas, and so are the hunters. Competition can be fierce for prime spots, which is why you see camouflaged boats wheeling down the freeway at 3 a.m.

If you want a certain spot, get there early. If someone beat you to it, take it like an adult and go someplace where you won't affect their hunt.

And if you're truly a good hunter, go beyond basic courtesy. If you see ducks or geese working another guy's decoys and a single drops into yours, maybe pass on the shot so you don't flare the birds he's working.

Same with calling. If some guy is calling birds circling his decoys, don't blow yours and try to lure them over to you. It doesn't mean you're a superior caller; it means you're kind of an ass for even trying.

When you're considerate, the other guy will hopefully notice and do the same for you. You will both have a better hunt, and small things take the edge off sometimes tense situations.

When hunters who've never met think about the other guy first, or at least factor them into their decisions, it makes hunting better for everyone, and in the larger picture, makes a better community of hunters.

If you see someone treat you fairly, tell them thanks so they know you noticed and appreciate it.

Nobody wants his hunt ruined, and in a perfect world, nobody would want to be the jerk who ruined someone else's hunt.

Nearly all the waterfowl hunters I've known through the years have been easygoing and good natured, until someone crosses them. If you're that guy, don't expect a pleasant reply.

I know it can be really frustrating to see someone in "your" spot that you've been looking forward to hunting all week. We've all been there. But try to keep that frustration in check. There are always other places to hunt, and other days to hunt.

Fortunately, waterfowl season lasts until Jan. 24, which means there is plenty of time ahead to shoot. Hopefully, your good hunts will far outnumber the bad.

There are a lot of variables beyond our control in waterfowl hunting. We can't control the weather, the migration or how the birds behave, but we can certainly control how we behave.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Thursday. Look for Zimo next week.

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