Some Reflections on Duck Hunting

Monday, April 13, 2020 | 10:37am

By Craig Owensby

“When I was young,” a wise, old duck hunter told me recently, “it was absolutely important to take the birds.”

And this was coming from a man who has taken more than a few in his lifetime. The season that had just ended was his 67th in the sloughs and fields around the Buffalo River in western Middle Tennessee, and he’s seen every possible condition – good days and bad, limits and skunks, warm weather and cold, full skies and empty, he’s been there.

He’d prefer that we leave his name out of this, so we’ll just say that his thoughts about the rewards found in the field fit right in with what we’ve been hearing from TWRA and other hunters – ducks may be harder to find these days, but that doesn’t mean the hunting’s been ruined.

“If you’re out to take a full limit of birds every time you go,” the old hunter said, “you’re not having the full experience of the hunt.” And that limit’s been a lot harder to get these past several years.

Jaime Feddersen, TWRA’s waterfowl program coordinator, says that “last year was pretty rough,” and “this year was a little bit better,” although the “general feeling is that there may be less” ducks passing through Tennessee during recent seasons.

That is probably the most optimistic way to say it. There’s no question that hunters are seeing fewer birds, although TWRA doesn’t monitor the harvest and it’s impossible to get an exact number. 

TWRA does bi-monthly counts during the season, but only on TWRA lands, specifically 17 refuges around the state, and falling counts don’t mean that the birds aren’t in the area, just that they’re not on that particular refuge on counting day. They might be across the road, in the next county, or back up north somewhere. The weather didn’t help us this year. Neither did high water both early and late in the season, and the bottom line is that there’s no way to tell exactly how many ducks are out there. What we know from what we’ve heard and what we’ve seen ourselves that there don’t seem to be as many as we saw five-or-10 years ago.

That said, there’s a lot more to the hunt than harvesting birds. “It certainly is good to have an opportunity to see birds and work birds,” the old hunter said, but he adds that “if I’m out there with guys that I like and I got a good dog, there’s a lot of beauty out there whether you’re killing birds or not.”

Jaime Feddersen agrees.

“It tends to be a very social sport,” he says. “You can be standing next to your buddy, laughing, cutting up, then you get a chance to shoot.”

Or not, depending on the kind of day it is, but once you realize that there are many more rewards than just bringing home a string of birds. I’ve seen it myself, on hunts where the birds where few or none at all but the hunters didn’t let it bother them, just talked and socialized, cooked up some breakfast in the back of the blind, and enjoyed another day in the field.

Like any other hunting or fishing trip, it’s all about the attitude. If you go in hard, determined to score or fail, you’re probably not going to have a good time, and you are definitely missing the point. If you relax and appreciate where you are, focus on what’s around you, and just don’t get so wound up about it, the hunt will come to you. You might not take a bird today, or ever, but the reward is not necessarily in the harvest; whatever fish, fowl, or game you might be after, it’s always good just to be out there.