Several seasons have slipped into muted memory now, yet one incident several years ago still stands out to me. Some nights I lose sleep over it—when something’s important to me, it tends to lodge in my synapse, recalled too easily and too often. I guess that’s called conscience. I will probably always wonder if I did the right thing.

It began as a simple local duck hunt less than a five-minute drive from home—just the dog and me. The weather was unseasonably warm; the flight was slow. I managed to bag a couple of mallards on a public hunting area by slogging deep into the oxbow slough to a spot that’s seldom hunted. In the wildlife management area parking lot after the hunt, a fan of my TV exploits recognized me and brought his son over to introduce themselves.

They’d enjoyed success, too. In fact, it was hard to tell who was more excited—the boy who’d bagged his first duck, or his proud papa. I was excited for the youngster, too, and shook his hand and congratulated him.

CloseRange_300x250The boy was reserved, but Dad gushed all the details. He told me where they were hunting and what they had seen. I smiled and nodded, enjoying their enthusiasm. Then Dad continued to tell me about his son actually shooting the duck. He said, “Yep. It came right in. I was calling hard, and that duck loved it! It landed splash in the middle of the decoys, and I shouted, ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ And my boy got it good with one shot!”

That turned me off. I know a lot of youngsters get started by shooting a duck or two on the water and work into shooting birds in the air. I guess it keeps enthusiasm up and builds confidence, but it didn’t happen that way when I started out, and I believe I’m better for it. We shot all birds (waterfowl or upland) in the air, or we didn’t shoot at all. Period.

I didn’t say anything to Dad or his son, but started on my getaway. While I loaded the back of the truck, Dad kept on. Then he asked if I’d take a picture of him and the boy with the duck.

“Aw, sure,” I said and thought. “Heck. Why not share in this father-son kind of moment I so loved with my own pa?”

Dad handed me his phone and grabbed the limp bird from the back of their truck. They rested against the rail fence surrounding the tiny parking area and held up the wet, disheveled bird for a classic grip and grin. I composed the scene best I could and snapped a couple of shots. As I handed back his phone, Dad said, “Thanks for taking a picture of my boy and his teal.”

It was all I could do to not whip around and square off with Dad! I’d just taken a picture of the two of them holding a hen bufflehead stretched beneath their grins nearly wider than the bird’s wingspan.

Did Dad truly not know the difference between the two, or was he just trying to make it an even bigger deal for his son by labeling it as a more desirable duck?

campchef abmI don’t know, and never will. I bit my lip, climbed in my truck, and drove out.

I’ll always wonder if I did the right thing. Every fiber of my hardcore duck hunting being tells me I should have set the record straight with Dad about encouraging his son to shoot a duck on the water and then not giving him the right information on what it was. How is the kid ever going to know right from wrong and learn the fine points of waterfowl identification? Those are the things—to me, anyway—that make it so interesting and addicting.

On the other hand, this is coming from a guy (me) who is over-the-top on IDing waterfowl. When my best high-school friend and hunting partner’s first child was born, I brought to the hospital a handmade set of waterfowl ID flashcards! No bull! I still can’t think of a better gift of duck hunting legacy for a day-old baby! Can you?

Did I do the right thing by minding my own business and allowing father and son to have their fun and moment together? Or should I have stood up for the heritage of American waterfowl hunting and corrected them both with the hope of setting them on a better course? I’d really like to know, but will probably always wonder.

What would you have done? Leave a comment and let me know. Maybe it will help me sleep better.

thermacell_logo_squarelow 150Tip of the Week

Posing for pictures with your game is a wonderful hunting tradition and the best way to preserve memories of special moments. Take your time and do it right—a ThermaCELL can help with that. Wear one on your belt to help keep you comfortable while you set up a great shot! Then be sure to post the picture on the ThermaCELL Hunting Facebook page for the world to see!
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Featured image courtesy Bill Miller

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17 thoughts on “A Duck Dilemma—What Would You Do?

  1. You made the right choice. My grandson shot his first goose and it was standing in the decoys. That one shot has made him an enthusiastic hunter that will continue after I am long gone. He had a chance to shoot it in the air but the odds were not in his favor as is true with most other young hunters. The duck id, i would have mentioned that to both and suggested the duck ID cards. My grandsons are learning that now and enjoying it, they are both 12 and are looking forward to this season! thanks for the article.

  2. You did the right thing. Someday the youngster will get to hunt with an ethical sportsman like and, or myself perhaps, and show him the right way to hunt waterfowl. Luckily it was a kill, you and I both know that any duck resting on water is a hard shot for a clean kill- only a head shot with say No. 7 steel shot will do the job in a clean and humane manner.

  3. Sorry, but you are being a pompous jerk. The object of duck hunting is to kill ducks – especially for a young fella that had never
    gotten one before. If you are so into sporting shots, go shoot some clays. Would you spook a deer so you could shoot it on the
    run?? You remind me of the fly fisherman that gets all snooty over someone fishing with worms or spinners. The first question
    to ask yourself is “is it legal?” If it is, then mind your own business. I think your feigned indignation is just to build you own ego.
    Otherwise, why write about it for all to see?

    1. Mike,

      Probably lost on you, but I’ll try anyway. Gauging the quality or ethics of your outdoor experience by “legality” is not the most satisfying or fulfilling way to lead your sporting life, or for that matter, any other aspect of your life. Regrettably, some day you may learn that the hard way.

    2. In my view, there is a great deal more to duck hunting than killing ducks. Without the heritage, tradition, variety, complexity, and even the romance, there isn’t much reason for me to do it. There’s no feigned indignation at all. For me, accurate duck i.d. is one of the most intriguing components to duck hunting — next to hunting in the company of a well-trained retriever. Hunting laws are, indeed, the nearly unseen foundation of hunting ethics. Ethics are everything above and beyond. Perhaps I am a purist about my own duck hunting, but by not raising the issues with the man and his son, I did not inflict my personal ethics on them. They broke no laws. My question is did I break my own ethics by not pointing out these things to them.

      Thanks to you and to all who have given comments. That’s exactly what I wanted the piece to do — start the dialog.

  4. A dead bird actually shot and killed by a fledgling participant
    whether flying or setting is a momentous step for any young hunter.
    I would have pulled dad aside and made sure he knew the species to
    prevent a soul-shattering experience later on should the dad or the
    boy in the company of his father, harvest a duck that exceeds bag
    limit standards, due to some ‘old fashioned’ point type restriction. A citation for illegally possessing game would be hard on the child’s perceptions of his father.
    Many today can confuse a pintail hen with a gadwall, black
    duck or even a mallard hen. There are existing 1 or2 bird limits on
    some species. Truly experienced duck hunters many times cannot tell
    a diving duck hen’s breed in flight as a solo flier. Many appear
    very similar especially ring neck, scaup and smaller golden eyes or
    buffleheads even in the hand until closer observations are

    Your election not to politely intercede really ruffles my feathers. I
    truly wonder about the intent of your article. Were you searching
    for reassurance/acceptance. If your intent was to stir the pot about
    murky waters in your past…you’ve succeeded with me. Grrrrrr! Your
    piece is a pathetic attempt and should be dismissed as mere trash.
    Was this all for the sake of a paycheck from a publisher?

    Proper ID at the first occasion is paramount to actually being able to
    claim the title of being a “duck hunter” (same for some
    geese hunters). Ever heard the story of the newbie goose
    hunter that killed the largest snow geese ever seen by human eyes.
    It’s a long one from 1971 if memory serves.

    I was raised by a New Mexico Game Warden, aka Dad. ID’ing waterfowl was prerequisite to obtaining my 1st hunting license at age 8 where I toted an
    over-sized Model 12 12ga. It should be, as it was for me…if you
    cannot ID the species, you have no business attempting to add it to
    your bag…period. We hunted ducks as often (very often!) as times
    would allow. We introduced many other sportsmen in the art of
    waterfowl hunting. Great PR for the Department and the my old man.
    Dad wasn’t anyone special, but he’s authored articles and he’s been
    written about and featured along with our old short-hair hunting dog
    in different state and national outdoors magazines (I keep those
    issues sealed in food vac bags…rest his soul.)

    Those that have shared a quality duck hunt know and understand the
    sacrifices, camaraderie and rib poking for misses, etc are the gravy
    on the taters sort of enhancement. It’s not at all about the numbers
    of birds harvested. It’s witnessing as many sunrises and/or sunsets
    from within the natural world. It is enjoying the sites, sounds and
    characteristics of an entire collection of animals in the outdoors,
    not to mention who’s wife, mom, etc. packed the best eats to offset
    the tribulations of the tiresome tasks of wading in icy water through thick silt bottoms, setting deeks, crafting blinds and bringing all out with you at the close of the

    Often real duck hunting requires hunters to go afield or into/onto the
    waters under less than humanly-desirable circumstance in weather not
    fit for most other types of hunters enjoyment. Buying a license,
    decoys, calls and all the bells and whistles some well-to-do new age
    hunters coupled with 3 1/2″ magnum, gas-operated $1500+ auto
    loaders do not a duck hunter make. I was stationed as an Air Force
    member in IL.

    Skybusting was the abnormal norm. That state as a whole has been and is
    riddled with restrictions and worked by lazy-assed coffee drinkers
    that lie in wait at the boat ramps to perform cavity searches of
    every crevice within a boat. (I haven’t ventured back into that
    state for more than 25 years due to the state’s standing with all
    things firearm save once to participate in a daughter.’s promotion
    ceremony to the rank of Major).

    Actually and successfully
    getting a flight of ducks to decoy as they were making their final
    and wings cupped closing pass as the dropped in altitude towards my
    & my friend’s spread was too often interrupted/abused by
    multi-shot, gun emptying volley’s from other hunters just burning
    lead and not true sportsmen duck hunting as I was taught from a
    young age. The financially-average man’s access to areas was due to
    limited access and a large number of hunter parties on public
    waters. We see TV programs that demonstrate stretching barrels
    beyond humane killing limits with steel loads and even #2 or BBs in
    3 inch 12 ga loads. Now costs have exponentially increased across
    the nation to the point that the American heritage of hunting is
    slowly eroding or being overtaken by greed. Repetitive abuse by
    ‘undesirables’ have tilted landowners views. Many landowners now
    fully appreciate contributions for access to any type of hunting
    grounds. A man and/or his buddies with shallow pockets has been
    relegated to take and make what is left among others all for the
    sake of the not-so-mighty USD.

    I’m not a purist, i.e. a fly fisherman with super-light tippets and
    hand-tied flies only sort of guy, but being fully immersed and as
    knowledgeable about a certain species or type of game being pursued
    must come 1st, regardless of what the object of the bag is whether
    fish, fowl or 4-legged game.

    Yes, you blew it by not making sure both these so called duck hunters
    knew the specie of the duck the youngster killed. No difference in
    what you did/didn’t do than turning a blind eye should you clearly
    witness a “poacher” making a spotlight kill off a paved
    road. How many are willing to interject of intercede? This form of
    behavior parallels not having enough character of integrity
    (sportsman/women) to protect the sport by reporting such acts
    immediately (ASAP) to the local catfish cop or other LE agency for
    appropriate action. It’s condoning wrong, anyway you go about it.
    The animals belong to the people. We all pay for the health,
    habitats and other well-being of both game and non-game
    beneficiaries through license sales, excise taxes (Pitman-Robertson-
    or Dingell-Johnson) on our supplies and necessities involved in the
    sports of fishing & hunting. Would you allow someone to take
    other properties belong to you, a neighbor or friend?

    Unabashedly, shame on you for shirking your responsibility to enhance and grow the
    sport properly. You short-changed the pair, especially the young
    man. Medical conditions now keep me out of the field for most game
    pursuits, but I still have hundreds of fond memories, backed by
    photos and rehashed stories with old hunting pals that will stay
    with me till my expiration. I’ve harvested (being PC in today’s
    chicken manure world) KILLED more than my fair of all types of game
    and fish. Each one taken properly under prescribed law and the
    unwritten laws of responsible sportsmanship.

    Clearly, this incident is eating away at you for a discernible reason. As I’d
    already noted, you’ve pissed off some of us ‘old fellers’ that
    cherish the times afield for the experience under God’s skies while
    we collected some of the best eats known to mankind!

    Go find a canyon and yell. Maybe the echos will show you some
    undeserved mercies!

    1. There are many aspects of your argument with which I agree, Spoon. I truly wish all waterfowl hunters were as devoted to the knowledge and heritage of the pursuit as we are. Waterfowl I.D. is a major part of the attraction to duck hunting for me — nearly as important as hunting in the companionship of well-trained dogs. Sadly that’s not what I see when hunting ducks and geese these days. We are in the company of people for whom hunting is a “part time” lifestyle. In reality, this is the vast majority of the hunters out there. If we throw obstacles in the path of their participation, they won’t go. Then there will be so few participants left that we’ll have no strength in numbers to support our pursuits and we’ll lose what we have left.

      There is indeed a great deal more to duck hunting than simply killing ducks. Without the heritage, tradition, variety, complexity, even the romance, it really wouldn’t mean very much.

      I appreciate your thoughts as I do for everyone who has commented on this article on both sides of the issue.

  5. I guess you’ve never had to finish a cripple off ? I know there’s a difference but not really cause if you so into ethics you wouldn’t have made that bad shot. I’ve shot em off the water before ( granted I tried to jump them first but they weren’t spooking as fast as I was coming over the dam). As far as his ID skills ; I’m with you. You should be able to identify your target. Personally I think you are wrapped to tight in your self and may need to get your self back to their kind of excitement. You just might remember what the true purpose hunting is for.

  6. You did the right thing… but you could have done it better and being a recognizable personality I believe you should have! Without hesitation heap the well deserved praise on the young man for his first kill. And then encourage him with a positive comment about what a great first step he took in becoming a hunter. Share with him that his next step would be to try and shoot his next duck in the air before it lands. You could have positively reinforced his first hunting experience and educated him at the same time. Secondly, you could have employed a similar technique regarding the misidentification of his first duck by saying… that’s a fine duck you shot there (as many actually do believe it to be), but I’m not sure that it is a teal. Let’s check it out with my waterfowl identification cards that I keep around to hand out to newborn infants of my family and friends. And then show the young hunter (and his father) how to properly identify his kill. Again, taking advantage of a teaching moment in a positive way. Hopefully you will take this lesson as a positive learning experience for yourself and become a better hunting mentor to those less knowledgeable about our sport.

  7. i have corrected people, both on sporting ethics and incorrect id. i always felt like i was wasting all our time. sleep tight.

  8. First… you have a TV show so does that make you better than every other duck hunter? Because thats what you sound like. Second.. when did it become frowned upon to shot ducks off the water? My grandad has said hes done it and so has my dad so guess what, im gonna blast them on or of the water. Idk who you are Bill but you are exactly what is wrong with duck hunting and i hope i never see you or whatever “TV show” you have. Cause ya know youre on TV so ill recognize you immediately.

  9. I prefer to shoot my birds on the wing, but I have no problem swatting a duck on the water as well. I’ve already done my job getting them to come in and be fooled enough to land. I support new/young hunters water swatting ducks. If it helps infinite the fire of the sport in them I see no wrong in it. Additionally, there can be instances where shooting them on the water is the best choice (maybe near deep water and no dog).

    I don’t think you did anything wrong by holding your tongue, but I probably would have told them what species the kid harvested. That’s an important part of the sport and a good learning experience.

  10. I’m shocked anyone on here would readily admit to swatting a duck (or any other bird) on the water or ground, let alone proudly proclaiming they do and chastising the author for suggesting it’s wrong. At the very least, it’s simple a dangerous practice.

    That being said, if there is one exception, it’s a kid on his first hunt…though I still think it’s like buying a kid a hooker for his first time but, even so, correcting his dad in front of the kid would not have helped anything.

    That being said, the dad should have been called on the species id. Bufflehead should not be confused for a teal after its in the bottom of the boat.

    Isn’t water swatting/ground pounding illegal in most States anyways?

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