Each year I offer to guide some young hunters on a duck hunt during Michigan’s two day youth hunt. This hunt is a great opportunity to teach the next generation of duck hunters how to ethically and successfully harvest waterfowl. I take the kids to a nearby state game area that is managed for waterfowl.
Last year I had two of my cousins’ kids on the youth hunt. Both kids were excited to have the opportunity at one of the premier waterfowl management areas in Michigan. We started the day by attending the pre-hunt draw to choose our hunting zones. After drawing third to last, we headed out to our zone. The zone we chose was in a scramble area without delineated hunting areas – the first one to a spot gets the spot. Since we were drawn so late, we were limited on where we could hunt since most of the good spots were already taken.
The adults unloaded the boats and loaded the gear while the kids got dressed and we were all ready to head into the marsh at the same time. With limited space, we found a place to set up that was over 100 yards away from the nearest hunting party. As we built a temporary blind and set the decoys we talked about some general ground rules for the hunt to maintain safety for everyone. The main points we covered are listed below and a good idea to layout before any hunt:
- When setting up, try to allow at least 100 yards between you and the next party. The greater the distance the less influence you will have on each others birds when they are working.
- Don’t shoot until hunting time has been called by the hunt leader.
- Respect your shooting lanes when the hunt begins. Don’t shoot at a bird that would cause you to be shooting over someone’s head. Don’t shoot behind you because that is where the adults will be standing.
- Only shoot healthy birds in the air. They are more exposed and offer a more vulnerable target.
- If a crippled bird is on the water, don’t shoot if the dog is near. Wait until all dogs and hunters are clear before finishing off a cripple.
- Wait for the hunt leader to call the shots. Shooting too early can be frustrating for yourself and for other hunters.
- Try to identify the ducks before you take your shot. The hunt leader will call out the species when he calls the shot. Identification is key to staying within the legal daily bag limit.
The kids were excited and understood the rules of the hunt as shooting time was quickly approaching. The morning started off with a bang as the first bird came in and was dispatched with one shot. The youngster had just shot his first ringneck. He was as excited as I’ve ever seen him. The following hour included about 20 shots between the two kids and no birds to show for them. The other youth decided to set up in a different spot and try to get some birds that were working a different area. This was a good decision as it yielded a large black duck. By ten in the morning, both kids had expended their 25 shell allotment and each had one duck to show for it. They had a great hunt even though they didn’t shoot well.
At the end of the hunt, I took the group to a nearby wetland restoration completed by Ducks Unlimited in coordination with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. When we arrived at the site, I explained the importance of continuing to restore wetlands and create more wetland habitat for waterfowl. By creating waterfowl habitat, we are taking steps to ensure that future generations can recreationally enjoy the wildlife that use these habitats. When we arrived at the two year old site, we were greeted with over 150 mallards and more than 50 geese on a 26 acre impoundment.
On the way home, the kids asked me politely if I would take them out again in 2009. When I agreed to put it on my calendar, they asked to hunt the DU project for the next hunt. I smiled and responded with a resounding “absolutely!”