by Bret Amundson
Some question the merits of Youth Waterfowl Day (YWD).
“You’ll blow the ducks out.”
“You’re ruining the traditional opener.”
Of course if you live where there is one pond in the county and it has 6 ducks on it, it could be a different story. Just like any type of hunting, the key to it is to use some common sense. Scout locations before you go and don’t rely on your ol’ honey hole every time you uncase the trusty scattergun. Try not to burn out your birds and maybe find a smaller pond that you wouldn’t hunt on the opener. Not to mention that we primarily hunt blue-winged teal and they don’t stick around for long anyway.
Besides, how can you argue with smiles like this?
For the second straight year we set up at the Watson Hunting Camp in Watson, MN and headed out before sunrise with my nephew Danny and his friend Corbin. Their fathers Wade and Duane also were back. This year included Corbin’s younger brother 12-year-old Ethan, who would be in the slough for the first time. Again a nearby landowner, Ben Irvin gave us the go ahead to bring the kids onto his small pond since his grandkids wouldn’t be hunting it yet.
YWD isn’t about shooting limits. It’s about the learning experience for new hunters. It’s about the outdoor introduction, education and ultimately the continuance of fall traditions that have been around for generations.
As we arrived a chill was in the air and it felt like duck hunting weather. I was instantly jealous that I didn’t get to have a shotgun. But that was the point. This was a “youth” hunt. The idea is that the focus would be on the kids and adults won’t get duck fever as balls of teal come wingin’ by.
A few quacks were heard in the dark that were soon accompanied by wingbeats as we kicked a pair of mallards and a half dozen teal off the water. We picked a spot on the east side of the slough where we’d have the sun at our backs and ample cover. This gave us a crosswind set up since having the wind at our backs would have the kids shooting towards a nearby road.
Teaching the kids about safety was a priority. Each shot was discussed before the trigger was pulled. No one would shoot until the shot was called. It was made clear who would be shooting first and where their shooting lanes where.
Of course all of this is easy to say beforehand but when a duck pond starts buzzing with birds coming from every direction, it doesn’t take much for things to get out of control. Fortunately the kids (and adults) kept their cool. The plan included Ethan getting the first shot. As was the case with every first-timer (me included) we let him shoot a duck on the water. A daunting task when the grass is almost as tall as you are and there are 20 ducks swimming in between 20 decoys. Finally a target was chosen and he slowly rose up and took the shot. Danny and Corbin would be on clean up duty and after Ethan’s single-shot 20 gauge rang out, ducks rose and were looking for ways to escape. Two did not as the clean-up crew did their job and made clean shots on flying birds.
You could have lit up Montevideo with the brightness of my smile.
Before too long, all three hunters had ducks in hand and fist bumps were going around. The ducks were decoying well for the most part but every once in a while we’d get a random that would land on the far side. It was getting later in the morning and the usual slow-down was in progress. I decided that it might be fun to see if Danny’s waders leaked by sending him on a “stalk”. He slowly got to his feet and began tiptoeing his way through the water towards the swimming blue-wing. The duck had worked it’s way into some grass and never saw him coming. Soon we could hear splashing water as wing tips pushed off the surface and it was on!
It took three shots but he got the job done!
I’d like to think he’ll remember that sequence his whole life, but in reality he’ll probably shoot so many ducks that it will get lost in the outdoor catalog filed away in his memory bank. I might remember it longer however. Similar to what happened on our hunt last year-a story that was told multiple times this weekend.
YWD is a good tool when implemented correctly. If it means you might shoot a couple fewer ducks on the traditional opener this year, then consider it the tradeoff. Without new generations getting off the couch and away from video games, waterfowl hunting could become a thing of the past. What will that mean for weekends in the fall? Who knows.
What would it mean for the ducks? We’re at record-high populations right now. As we all know, without hunters some species would be extinct. Could you imagine a world without wood ducks in it? Doesn’t sound like one I’d want to be in.