Mike Wilson: A handy guide to low disposable income fowling

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, September 21, 2023

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Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson
Guest columnist

A well-heeled middle-aged acquaintance of mine recently decided to take up hunting for the first time and asked for my guidance in gearing up for bird hunting and for ducks and geese in particular. I recommended he start off with an economical $200 12 gauge pump that wouldn’t cause sleepless nights when it inevitably got dinged or drowned (or if his interest soon flagged), so naturally he proceeded to acquire a $2200 over-and-under, followed shortly thereafter by the latest Italian auto. I suppose it won’t be long before he drops another $85K on a boat with a large mud motor, a fancy trailer, and a crew-cab 4WD diesel pickup to pull them. Maybe he has been watching too much tv…

I myself am a man of modest means, and my duck hunting drill of this past half century reflects that unswerving reality. Here is my advice for those who want to hunt ducks, but also have families that need to eat, wear clothes, live indoors, etc.:

Guns: I will stick to my recommendation of a modest 12 gauge pump, whether low-end new or better grade used. I have a Mossberg Maverick pump and also a 1970’s Ithaca 37, both of which cost me less than $250 apiece. I also own a Remington 1100 magnum that I consider too beautiful to see her (as you can see, I am very attached) lustrous blued barrel and nice walnut stock abraded by boat metal and/or rocky shores. Pumps always work, and I have cursed enough sluggish autos at single-digit temperatures in my career to appreciate more than ever that “snick-snick” that bespeaks extra opportunities. A fixed modified choke relieves you of exhausting after-market choke tube comparison posts in internet chat rooms.

Ammo: The last goose I shot succumbed to a 2.75 inch 12 gauge load of 1.125 ounces of steel BB’s. There were no precious metals involved, so that shot cost me approximately 40 cents. The recoil was — comparatively — so light that I could have followed up easily if I had needed to. I have shot very pricey 3.5 inch tungsten alloy loads from an industry leader, and they did not kill anything any deader than the bargain-basement shells. (I also felt bad about depriving my dear wife of a latté per round…) Anyway, I don’t even want to try 60-yard shots.

Dog: Owning one is the surest route to the poor house. Period. I like dogs and love to watch retrievers work, but when our lap dog died a few years ago, I realized when I looked at the thick and single-spaced record of her medical history that I had unwittingly bought our veterinarian a private Caribbean island. If you really want your duck meat to cost out at only $100 a pound, avoid getting a dog. Without one, however, you will definitely need a . . .

Boat: I was once invited to a fine duck club in Louisiana that owned two fleets of boats with nice big mud motors, one for each side of the levee that delimited the large, shallow, and stump-filled impoundment. It was fun to sit on a camo shooting bucket and hold the rope passed down the center of the craft as we reached 2 G’s. In my real life, however, I have witnessed too many ramp tantrums and shown up too many hours earlier than necessary to want to trailer a rig around and remember to grease the wheel bearings regularly. I have used since the mid-80’s a 14-foot jon boat that weighs about 150 pounds and fits in the bed of my pickup. It is a breeze for two people to launch most anywhere right off the bank — even the bank right next to the hotly contested ramp, much to the annoyance of the hot contestants — and I can manage it alone when I have to. It has no moving parts except the drain plug. (Check that: I actually tightened it down forever with my Channelocks, so I no longer have to think about it.) I also cruelly deprive marine mechanics of their daily bread by using a 55-pound thrust trolling motor for the sake of economy and silence. This combo keeps me off big water when it’s choppy, but it’s a compromise I gladly accept for the sake of safety in any event. A $50 20 x 8 foot nylon camo net with two slits will cover the whole rig and two shooters nicely and keep you out of the expensive boat blind section of your favorite catalog.

Waders: Here is an area where cheap goods are the least advisable. Great, durable waders of thick neoprene with heavy insulation in the boots can be had for less than $200 if you watch the after-season sales. And here’s another hint that you perhaps have not considered: When your old uppers get leaky in the crotch (isn’t it always there?), cut the boots off and use them as “wading boots” for a new pair of stocking-foot waders. The price differential between the boot- foot and the very same stocking-foot models of most waders is remarkable, so don’t discard those $100 boots!

Decoys: I have enjoyed good success with a small spread of only five or seven (I do believe that waterfowl have now evolved to spot even half-dozens) black duck decoys for all puddle ducks. Buy a dozen and keep the balance for spares for the years to come or, better yet, give them to a kid just starting out. Will a large migrating flock zero in and hasten to sit down? Sometimes. But for small flocks and the pairs and singles that seem to populate the mid-morning in the backwaters, the small spread looks very inviting and different from all the rest. For geese, I do the same for floating applications and put out just a few super-magnum shells on motion stakes for field hunts. These presentations are easy to transport and take a few minutes to set up and then pack up later. They also fit handily into a small boat (see above). I have done well enough with plain old decoys to pass on the now infinite variety of motion models, which in any case tip the scale toward the hunter a bit too much for my taste. A couple of low-tech “feeder butts” will do the trick.

Calls: I happen to use one I inherited, but I have blown enough of them to know that the “law of diminishing returns” is hard at work in this arena. I can declare with supreme confidence that $150 calls are not five times better than $30 calls.

Do I have a scrapbook chock-full of pictures of myself glowingly displaying heavy straps sporting daily limits of quackers? No, but I have certainly killed quite enough in my lifetime to make for great memories and even better eating — all without breaking the bank.

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.