Annette’s First Hunt – Success!
You’ve likely been along on my journey so far, from deciding that I wanted to hunt to getting ready. The day finally came during the weekend before Thanksgiving and – spoiler alert – I brought home a string of ducks!
My hunt was an organized event, intended to give us the best possible experience and chances of success. We started with a round of sporting clays in the morning, which gave everyone a chance not just to warm up with their guns generally, but also to practice the kinds of shots that were expected to be common in our afternoon hunt.
Clay target loads are usually loaded so that the shot moves a little more slowly out of the barrel than in the hotter, higher velocity hunting loads. For the ducks, we also used steel shot, which tends to pattern slightly differently than the lead common in practice loads. So sporting clays practice wasn’t exactly on point, but it was still a good exercise to get a reminder of how to shoot moving targets with a shotgun. In the future, I’ll definitely try to get in some time on the clays courses before going hunting even if I can’t make it a same day session like this trip.
While the weather was a bit chilly in the morning, it quickly warmed up into an unseasonably warm day. Fortunately, my experience in shooting matches year-round taught me that the best way to dress for big temperature swings is to mix and match many thin layers. As a new hunter, the only piece of camouflage clothing I own so far is a rain jacket. I specifically bought it instead of a heavier coat for more flexibility, and I’m really glad I did!
Being able to stack up thermal base layers under my jacket was really great for the morning, which started out in the 40s (Fahrenheit, for my non-US readers). However, when temperatures hit the low 60s in the afternoon, plenty of those layers got dumped in my car. Having the option to drop extra layers made my investment really worthwhile, and I’ll continue to shop for dressing in layers while I build up my hunting wardrobe.
As I’ve mentioned before, my hunt was a released mallard duck shoot. In addition to being provided guides to help call ducks and coach our shooting and dogs to retrieve our birds, using permanent blinds and pre-set decoys, the ducks themselves are captive-bred and released specifically for each hunting session. As part of the shoot, our group was also guaranteed a “bag” – a certain number of ducks shot.
Is it a “real hunt” in terms of facing off against wild birds that may or may not appear conveniently on schedule? No. But the birds are still animals that fly and behave unpredictably, and they still must be shot out of the sky. In our shoot, we each had varying levels of success in actually harvesting the ducks, even though we all shared equally in the bounty afterwards. As a novice huntress, I thought it was a fantastic way to get some good experience and success right off the bat.
In fact, in my first attempt, I had a duck fly straight towards the blind and practically into my face. I brought my gun up to my face and shoulder, had plenty of time to make sure my beads were lined up, and paused a moment as the duck came in closer and closer. Bang! My first shot dropped the duck and all three of us in my blind broke the etiquette of silence and cheered. Something else we could only enjoy in a “canned hunt” like this one, but a moment of triumph and celebration I wouldn’t trade for any amount of “proper” tradition.
It was only the first of several birds throughout the day, and I ended the hunt with a feeling of satisfaction that was only heightened after I took home one of the ducks and processed it by myself, plucking and gutting a bird for the first time. Dinner the next night was one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s not that I was celebrating killing and death, but that I was able to appreciate so much more deeply the experience of being responsible for my food from sky to plate.
Will I go hunting again? Almost certainly. Maybe duck, maybe some other bird, maybe a mammal next time. What do you suggest?