By Keith McCutcheon, Supervising Wildlife Biologist

Attention duck and goose hunters: coming soon to a marsh near you is the start of waterfowl season. Are we ready?  It’s that time of year, when the non-waterfowling society sees its otherwise normal citizens suddenly exhibiting behavior appearing very strange to wives, neighbors, and even other sportsmen. Yet the waterfowling community (admittingly, I am one of you), somehow don’t view our actions as strange in any sense.

Somehow, we understand perfectly that clanging and banging on a duck boat in the driveway at 1 a.m., shining flashlights in, around, and under the house at 2 a.m., or cranking an untested outboard while yelling at the retriever at 3 a.m. (in spite of the neighbors’ lights coming on), is all perfectly normal behavior for duck hunters in December, isn’t it? No cause for the neighbors to be alarmed, is there? We simply know that, in a few hours, it’s opening day of the duck season. And once again, we’re not yet exactly ready for opening day. We shun the proposition that our non-believing neighbors could think us strange! Maybe we mistakenly assume they automatically recognize the importance of all this pre-dawn banging and clanging in the neighborhood. Truth is, our waterfowling “strange behavior list” can get pretty long this time of year.

This year though, maybe waterfowlers can be better beacons of light by self improvement. In addition to the ever present practicing of duck calling, marksmanship and duck identification skills, we could strive to improve our (and I shiver to say it) preparedness. After all, there is bound to be some room for improvement in any group, even ours, isn’t there? Maybe the change won’t be so bad. We could call it something catchy like changing our ways for the better, or turning over a new camouflaged leaf, so to speak.

I envision our to-do list as a “Waterfowling Etiquette 101,” or maybe “The Waterfowler’s First Set of Commandments.” Suggested rules? Maybe things like:

1. Thou shall not assume a shotgun’s range is capable of reaching outer space. (“Meaning: Lose the sky-busting habit. Duck harvest is measured in yards, not miles.) Know your shotgun’s range!

2. Thou shall not block the public boat ramp while loading thy boat with one item at a time, in the dark. (Meaning: This seems like hours to everyone else waiting to launch, and bass fisherman will love you for any adjustments made.) Be prepared to launch!

3. Thou shall not come motoring up in thy boat just after daylight, proceeding to throw out decoys as if no one else was there. (Meaning: Everyone else arrived on time to see ducks, not you.) Be on time or wait until later to show up!

4. Thou shall not assume to be invisible (Meaning: Don’t show up without properly camouflaging yourself and your boat/blind, etc. Your hunting brethren will not be impressed by anything new and shiny at this time, and neither will the ducks.) Do your camo homework!

5. Thou shall not forget basic training of your retriever and your duck calling before thy season begins. (Meaning: Attempting to hone these necessary elements, after the season starts, positively ensures that you are destined to forever hunt alone.) Train, train, train!

I believe the veterans of our sport will applaud the adoption of these measures unanimously, and would agree that it could possibly make your hunting experience (and theirs) much more enjoyable. And who knows, it may even please the neighbors. Are we ready?