Fall has always been my favorite time of year for many reasons, not the least of which is the increased opportunities to get out in the woods chasing squirrels, grouse, rabbits, pheasants, and maybe if the weather was bad enough, some migratory ducks. I loved hunting for them all but I never quite got the hang of duck hunting despite my father’s efforts to take me under his wing so to speak.
He was a member of the Northwest Pennsylvania Duck Hunters Association and those guys took their ducks pretty seriously, and believe me when I say they loved each and every one of those feathered wonders. It wasn’t like they had a secret handshake or anything, but it was obvious that they had a passion for the sport and the game they pursued. I can remember hanging duck boxes for woodies in the dead of winter when the beaver ponds were frozen over and then studying flash cards of birds in flight so we could identify our game when the time came to bring my shotgun to bare. They did things to help sustain populations along with other organizations like Ducks Unlimited and to provide hunting opportunities for handicapped outdoorsmen as well as children. So growing up around a bunch of conscientious hunters means I try to toe the line in my own hunting and fishing efforts.
But speaking about duck season would be incomplete if we didn’t mention some of the unusual byproducts of the industry and that would be the collectable decoys, calls, guns, shell boxes, and other equipment from “back in the day.” Even though these artifacts were designed and built with the intent that they be used, and used hard, in the field, they have now become collectable antiques that can fetch a pretty hefty price on the market. I actually had two gentlemen offer me $800.00 apiece for a pair of mallard decoys sitting on a shelf in the fly shop. I doubted that they had all their marbles in one basket right up to the point where they correctly identified the manufacturer from over ten feet away. I subsequently found three more mallards by the same company and have since moved them to places of high visibility and prominence. Do you have any old decoys sitting in your garage?
Duck hunting has a history that many people would like to forget, especially when you figure in the meat hunting days around the great depression, but conservation efforts across the country coupled with stricter waterfowl regulations have allowed my generation to see great success as compared to 50 years ago. Recently though, duck hunting has moved a bit more into the mainstream due to popular TV shows and everyone’s realization that proper game management includes some hunting and not a total “hands off” approach. One of my favorite vacation destinations has always been Easton, Maryland for the Waterfowl Festival, where we used to marvel at the paintings and carvings crafted in a common theme. Outdoor enthusiast owe it to themselves to visit the festival and maybe even join in on the calling contests. You just might know how to speak “Pintailese.”
The season is almost here, so now is the time to check out your decoys, tied new anchor lines, gather up all your calls, and hit the skeet field for some practice. Go through your collection to see if you have anything collectible worth putting on the market to bring in some money for a new shotgun. Look up a local organization and lend a hand with their conservation effort and ensure that there are ducks around for years and years to come, so that your kids have something to chase when their time comes.
Brian “Beastman” Eastman