It seems like every hunt begins with nerves as the sun slowly reveals the morning to come. Wingbeats heard are not yet seen and the next few hours remain a mystery. With the countdown on, the shadows of birds raise the heart rates of hunters and time seems to stand still. Finally, “kill them” rings out and a pair of mallards fall to a splash amongst the spread of lifeless decoys. A quick retrieve and toss into the blind leaves no time for celebration as the hunters await the next flight. Celebration has its place behind the lens of a limit. Anything shy will have to be individual pictures and posts so followers can’t see how shy of the perfect hunt we remain.
Regardless of if you want to admit it or not, chances are you are either chronically ill, or at least showing symptoms of, this limit-seeking culture that has overhauled the outdoor industry.
When I reflect on what led me to the sloughs and cornfields I now frequent for most of the year, I can attribute it to my dad taking me out to his honey-hole. A full time job and two kids did not lend well to scouting so we trekked through the public land near Oologah lake (if you aren’t from Oklahoma then just sound it out and you’ll be close on pronunciation) and when it felt right, we had made it to the “X.” Possessing the purity of a child and the bliss of ignorance, my dad was the original duck commander and each trip (we averaged 3 outings a season) had the potential to be legendary. They are all distant memories now and blend together with time, but it feels as if each trip had a harvest average of one or two birds. Sometimes mallards but most often divers composed our harvest (which is why I will never pass up spoonies or ringnecks) and to that young boy, there was no greater success. A pass through the donut shop on the way home and sharing the back seat with our below average retriever gave me a title that many friends from school in the city did not possess, “the duck hunter.”
What was once an epic trip with two ducks successfully harvested, has become a trivial warm up and I refuse to accept who I have become. Pile pics do not do justice to the experience of interacting with nature and we must learn to esteem the harvest.
Think of the good ole days and the harvest limits that the previous generation followed,
“In the Mississippi and Central Flyways, the daily bag limit can include only one mallard and one pintail with a possession limit of two mallards and two pintails. During the 1964-65 season, these two Flyways had a daily bag limit on mallards of two with a possession limit of four”fws.gov
A four-man limit of green in the 1960s would be a total of 4-8 mallards depending on the specific year and its bag limit. Today, a four man is 20+ depending on species. What was once a limit is now a warm up. We must remain thankful that conservation has allowed this increase, but do not become greedy and hardened. We must not redefine success in lieu of Instagram competition.
Being in the outdoor industry, I hear horror stories of folks that cannot seem to cook duck or even worse, admit to flat out disliking the meat. The most common question asked in the blind with new hunters is “what is a good recipe to make it not taste as… ‘ducky’…” These same limit-seekers are the first to post a pile pic of soon to be freezer burnt memories. I am not innocent of this, but I am convicted of it. We must do a better job of preserving the sport. Teach our kids the importance of the harvest and to cook the game in a way that honors the process. The hunt should end at the table. In a society that foregoes the table, make it a tradition. Forget the pile this year and focus on the trip. Let each harvest be a success story.
Don’t miss the table this year.
See you in the blind.