C ontemporary hunting and fishing gear is great in the right hands. In the wrong hands, though, it affords the lazy and ignorant equal but undeserved access to outdoor resources.
Mostly, I’m pointing a finger at GPS navigation, which is built into nearly every hand-held electronic device available today. The technology enables anyone who can play Pokémon Go! To push a button and, whenever they like, return precisely to one place from any other place on the planet.
That’s a powerful boost to people who can’t read maps or otherwise find their own places to hunt and fish. And it frustrates the heck out of folks who were taught and still think that hard work is always rewarded.
Fishermen get burned regularly by others who, as if nobody knew what they were doing, will idle within 100 yards or so of a boat that’s clearly catching fish, stop, then ease away. What they’ve done is stopped directly north or east or south or west of that successful boat, captured the position and saved it to be “moved” and saved in the right position a few minutes later.
On the water, it’s easy enough to move to another spot if your favorite happens to be crowded. For duck hunters, though, surprises an hour before daylight don’t leave many reasonable options.
Case in point: In August, a listener to my radio show (Saturday and Sunday mornings on SportsTalk 790 in Houston) called to express his feelings toward people who “poach” other people’s duck blinds on East Texas reservoirs.
Granted, the water is public property. And if you build a blind on a public lake or marsh or bay, you run the risk – as he did, and as he discovered – of having opportunistic or lazy or both hunters set their alarms a few minutes earlier than yours and squat your blind for the morning.
“We didn’t think you were hunting today,” they tell you through lying smiles.
(Translation: We hoped you weren’t hunting today, but if you were, we figured we’d just beat you to the blind and create a situation so uncomfortable that you back off and go somewhere else.)
Their decoys are set, they’ve arranged their guns and shells just so on the shelves you and your buddies built over four boat trips and two sweaty, sticky summer days. And everyone standing there knows full well it’s too late for those guys to gather their gear and leave before shooting time.
“I guess if you really want us to leave, we could pick up and go over yonder,” they’ll lie a second time. “Yonder,” of course, is never more than 100 yards away, which everyone holding a flashlight knows is too close for the safe and comfortable execution of two successful duck hunts.
The ultimate insult, of course, is their invitation for you to join them – in your blind.
So you, recognizing that no duck blind is worth a fistfight, leave. They hunt your spot and laugh about it. Maybe you improvise a Plan B, or maybe you just retreat to a diner for a proper breakfast.
That’s a hard lesson for young, enthusiastic duck hunters to learn, but it’s a valuable one. If you’re like me—I had the same experience a couple of times—you learn from it.
First, don’t try to build something nobody can find. Remember GPS? Nothing can’t be found, and nothing found is safe from misuse. Instead, learn to build something that appears less desirable or, better yet, is entirely portable.
Some old friends who got tired of their bay blinds being poached found a couple of ways to dissuade the opportunists. They built sturdy frames but didn’t brush them completely. There was enough “cover” to make the birds comfortable with its presence, but they left gaping holes that left the blinds unsuitable for actual hunting. When my friends hunted, they’d bring a few piles of fresh brush and camo netting to complete the illusion.
If you like flooded timber, you already know the advantage of portability. Instead of nailing anything to a tree, however, carrying a lightweight bowhunting seat and a couple of screw-in hooks. Set the seat just above the water line, and add a hook within easy reach to hold your gear and decoy bags (which are handy in the shadows for breaking up your form).
I’m a fan, whenever possible, of going to the birds instead of trying to bring the ducks or geese to me. Portability, especially on public property, frees you from worrying about other hunters using your blind. Instead of investing 12 or 18 hours building something elaborate on public land, maybe invest that time marking (discreetly) trails to more secluded areas where you’re likely to see birds under specific weather conditions but unlikely to encounter lazy people.
Done right, temporary cover is highly effective and often will “out hunt” more elaborate, fixed structures.
For days when you’ll build something on the fly, pack a machete and a handful of large, plastic zip-ties. That’s all you need to gather material and render yourself nearly invisible to the birds.
If the goal is to put meat in the sack, it’s usually better to be sitting on the ground behind a makeshift pile of limbs and grass in the right place than to be comfy and cozy in a fancy blind even 75 yards from where you should be.
Hunting public land can be highly productive, even here in Texas where there’s not a lot of it. There’s more to it, though, than big spreads and good shooting. Success on lakes and marshes and bays also requires flexibility and creativity.
Big, fancy duck blinds surrounded by 500 decoys are nice, but there’s satisfaction also from hiding behind a some twigs poked into the mud and watching pintails or mallards respond to your call, cup their wings and land among your decoys.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]