Submission by Travis Thompson
I rate my hunts.
No. I don’t give them a score, per se, a la “7 outta 10” – more, I put many of them into categories. Here’s the way I slice them up . . .
The Regular Old Hunt
This is most hunts. Some ducks fall. Some ducks missed. Some memories made.
Nothing unusual about these hunts. We love them and they’re part of the reason we get out of bed, but they’re not “Standouts” . . . We use this category simply for hunts that don’t fall into one of the others . . .
Need I go on?
You woke up at 4 am, truck loaded with decoys. It’s a Tuesday, so there’s no worry about crowding or someone stealing your spot. You’re set up by 5:30 and ready to shoot. A perfect thermos of coffee keeps you company as you await what should be an epic shoot, based on your scouting trips the past few days.
Shoot time approaches. And then.
You couldn’t buy a bird at the meat market . . . The Shutout is usually the worst of all the hunts. Of course there are days they are a surprise (the aforementioned scouted birds), but there are also days when new weather or high winds or bluebird skies make them less surprising.
Shutouts happen. Enjoy your time in the blind and make the best of it. And pray for a merganser to make a mistake at 9:30.
The Opposite of the Shutout. This is the hunt where the birds are so plentiful, you’re picking drakes. Don’t confuse the shootout with “Just a Regular Day” of duck hunting.
For me, on a regular day, a limit isn’t out of the question. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a wait, but there are still a bunch of birds to clean when I get home. The Shootout is something altogether different to experience.
This is the hunt where huge flocks of birds descend into the deeks. Where everyone shoots 3 times and each shooter knocks down at least two birds. And before all the ducks are retrieved another pile locks in.
It’s the hunt where ducks land in the decoys while you’re picking up dead ducks in the same decoys. Where they’re coming from every direction so fast you can’t keep your gun loaded and pull the trigger at least once on an empty chamber because you don’t know what’s happening.
The Shootout is the reward . . . It’s the hunt that makes those Shutouts and ice cold mornings worth it all.
The cold front is gone. The winds have mostly lain down. The sun is bright, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.
Welcome to the Bluebird.
These hunts are generally marked by the comment “Well, at least the weather is nice” or “At least it’s a pretty day” . . . Why? Because, in the history of duck hunting, no one has ever had The Shootout overlap with the Bluebird. Oh sure, someone out there is claiming it happened to them once in Arkansas in ’04.
Shootouts on Bluebirds are Unicorns. If you have one, with photographic proof, please contact us immediately. We have a team of scientists and therapists standing by.
This is what duck hunting is.
Heavy cloud cover. Drizzling rain. Maybe even some snow flurries mixed in, or at least a nice wintry mix . . . Winds howling, and maybe shifting halfway through the hunt. Everything soaked through to the bone, despite the best gear money can buy.
The Storm is what you picture when you look at a Rockwell painting of a duck hunter. While your body secretly hopes for Bluebirds, your head and your heart make it no secret they like the rough stuff.
Storms always overlap with Shootouts. This is the perfect combination. If we were doing Venn Diagrams here, our model would look something like: “Not all Storms are Shootouts, but all Shootouts are Storms”
Even the bad days in inclement weather at least hold memories. You get back to the ramp and the boat’s loaded and you rush to the truck, rain dripping off the brim of your hat . . . You look at your partner and both of you instantly crack up at the ridiculousness that just occurred.
Just like iron being forged in the fire, the Storm helps forge memories that won’t ever be forgotten. My kids have killed plenty of birds on regular days, and even a few on Bluebird hunts, but the ones that have them laughing and giggling and recanted for the entire ride home and for months and years after the trip are the ones that happened in the Storm.
This is, in reality, everyone’s favorite trip.
Consider for a minute – would you rather kill a limit of ringers, or a full plumed pintail? A bunch of mallards, or the handsomest Bluewing anyone’s ever seen, the one with a white crescent almost encircling his head, wearing jewelry?
This is quality over quantity.
That’s not to say they’re mutually exclusive. There’s actually nothing better than a Shootout with a couple of Trophies on the side.
The Trophy can come in many shapes and sizes – it can be a fully lit drake, or a hen with jewelry, a first duck, a fantastic retrieve, a double (or triple), a first retrieve, or anything else that makes you happy about the bird.
I have mounted in my living room a young, eclipsed Bluebill . . . No real good color, no standout plumage, no bands . . . Just my sons first duck . . . That hunt is etched in my memory forever. I also have a banded Greenwinged Drake, fully regaled, that capped off a teal limit one morning. Two different ducks. Two different stories. Both trophies in my house
Those are the 5 categories I put special hunts into . . . What genres are we missing?