Back in the old days, waterfowl hunting was relatively simple. A hunter donned whatever garment he owned that would keep the rain off and heat in, grabbed his one-and-only shotgun and a pocketful of shells, and headed to the nearest spot he knew would hold ducks or geese. If he used decoys, they were probably rough, wooden blocks he or someone else had carved, or maybe a few of the “modern” cork ones sold by Herters.
Things have changed a lot since then. Modern hunters have access to clothing that looks like it was designed by NASA engineers. There are GoreTex, Thinsulite, Neoprene and other fabrics of which Grandpa, in his woolen long johns and canvas gunning jacket, could never have imagined. He’d probably also find a semi-automatic shotgun with a synthetic stock and interchangeable chokes hard to get used to. Motorized decoys, portable blinds and GPS units would would probably seem like science fiction.
In fact, some folks who don’t know better might suppose that technological advances have stacked the deck so much in favor of the hunter that ducks and geese don’t have a chance. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No matter how sophisticated sportsmen and their gear are, nature more often than not determines the chances of success.
A hunt that occurred on the Pamlico River a number of years ago is an example. A cold north wind caused a distinctive chop that splashed against my waders as I set out decoys in the pre-dawn darkness. Afterward, settlling into my blind, I noted that the wind had shifted to the northwest and was steadily building. Not only that, but the temperature seemed to be dropping as the sky turned gray, then pink.
As it got lighter, I could see the dark outline of my decoys bobbing on the waves. Or at least most of them were bobbing. Something seemed to be wrong with those closest to shore. Going out to investigate, I discovered what it was – they were sitting on the bottom, tilted to one side on their keels. I picked up a half dozen or so, moved them to the outer edge of the spread and got back into the blind. Shortly I noticed others, the ones now closest to where I sat, were also keeled over. As I moved the culprits farther out, it occurred to me that the water was dropping out of the river like someone had pulled the plug, apparently being pushed by the wind which, by now, was roaring.
A couple of hours and several more decoy adjustments later, I realized I was fighting a losing battle. The water, which had lapped against the front of my blind when I arrived was now fifty yards out. My closest decoys were so far away that, if a duck did land in the spread, he’d be out of shotgun range. By the time I’d finished picking up my decoys, I could walk 100 yards or more straight out toward the river channel without getting my boots wet.
It was terrible conditions for duck hunting. The scaup, canvasbacks and other diving ducks stayed out over the middle of the river, apparently as baffled by the conditions as I was. It was a good lesson, though. It was an example of how Nature ultimately controls things, no matter how experienced, smart or well-prepared the hunter is.