Duck hunting isn’t a sport, it’s an addiction. Those people with the addiction are called “duck nuts.” I was a duck nut. Few addictions are easy to walk away from, but for the last decade or more, I thought my days of being a “duck nut” were behind me. Then my son-in-law Jeff became a duck nut.
First, he signed up for a waterfowling workshop sponsored by Indiana DNR personnel as well as actual waterfowl hunters who are volunteers in his local Ducks Unlimited chapter as a part of their R3 — Recruit, Retain and Reactivate — efforts. It featured evening “schools” teaching student hunters the basics of waterfowl hunting. Hunting safety, duck and goose calling, decoys and decoy placement, waterfowl identification and other aspects were on the curriculum.
Then, the schooling was taken out of the classroom to demonstrate the actual lessons and to put the lessons to use. Graduates of the school were invited to participate on actual hunts with seasoned hunt mentors. Son-in-law, Jeff, aced the course and was well on his way to becoming a waterfowling addict.
Perhaps I helped fuel his addiction by offering ancient decoys, boxes of unused waterfowling shotshells, a couple of well-tuned duck calls and most of all, stories and advice of when, where and how to fully immerse himself into the waterfowling lifestyle. It helped, but his
misses and mistakes outnumbered his memorable hunts.
There’s nothing wrong with self-taught lessons. Much of what I know about duck and goose hunting came from trial and error as much as from guidance by older mentors. I didn’t have many older mentors, just the desire to become a proficient waterfowl hunter. Some people are born into waterfowling families. I was a self-made “duck nut.”
I realized that perhaps a more ‘hands on’ experience was what Jeff needed. “How about we head for South Dakota?” I said while we were celebrating Independence Day at Raccoon Lake. There’s no off season for duck nuts, only times when duck season is open or closed.
Some think of Mount Rushmore or the Badlands when they think of South Dakota. Hunters by the thousands know that long-tailed ringnecks and South Dakota go hand in hand. After all, South Dakota upland hunters bag a million pheasants per year. Fishermen think of walleye-filled prairie lakes.
When I think of South Dakota and the outdoor opportunities available there, I picture the prairie lakes and marshes called “potholes,” which abound in the rolling, glacial-formed hills in northeastern part of the state. My first job after graduating from college was on a National Wildlife Refuge in this part of South Dakota where I learned first hand why the prairie pothole region comprises the premiere duck nesting area in North America.
I met and married my wife while stationed there, a wise choice on many levels, including giving me opportunity and reason to head to South Dakota most autumns to feed my own duck nut addiction.
After my conversation with my son-in-law, I looked up the current information about getting a non-resident waterfowl license. South Dakota issues only a limited number and hunters need to apply months in advance. If more applications are received than the number of licenses available, a lottery drawing determines success or failure. By the time I relayed what I learned online at www.gfp.sd.gov to Jeff, he’d already been online and was ready to apply.
Fast forward a few months. We both had a South Dakota duck licenses in our wallets. I had new waders. I had confidence in my old, battle-scarred Wingmaster shotgun. I was sure my camo-painted canoe, used only sporadically for the past couple of decades, was up to the task. I had the hope my aging body was up to the rigors of the hunt.
We also had maps downloaded from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website which showed hundreds of public hunting areas available within easy driving distance of where we were staying. Was my confidence warranted?
A week or so later, mission accomplished. Like riding a bike, some skills are not forgotten. The sounds and smells of the marsh had renewed my addiction. The sounds and
smells of blasting shotguns echoing on misty mornings brought back distant memories. Ducks flying away unscathed and ducks tumbling down after well-placed shots brought smiles to my face — and to Jeff’s face.
After all, he’s a duck nut. And so am I.