Many of my Bassmaster Elite Series peers are obsessed with golf, deer hunting or some other offseason hobby. Maybe they just fish. But the thing that keeps me going when the season ends is waterfowl hunting. Deer hunting used to be right up there, too. I’d go every year. This year, though, I didn’t deer hunt even once. Still, I spent plenty of time in the duck blind.
One of the things that differentiates the two types of hunting for me is the camaraderie. When you’re hoping to shoot a deer, it’s all about you. You can’t move, you can’t talk, you can’t smoke a cigarette. When it comes to duck hunting, on the other hand, it frequently involves your buddies. It’s more of a team sport, and for someone like me who competes in an individual sport for a living it’s a welcome change of pace.
The Minnesota duck season is split into two parts, and when I first got home we were in the split, so I fished for about a week before I could put my shotgun to work. Actually, I’d thought about starting during the first part of the season, when we were scheduled to be at St. Clair. One of my buddies called me to say that he had a spot that was absolutely loaded, and I seriously considered missing a portion of the practice period to hunt. In the end, I stayed at the lake, but it was pretty tempting.
I was rewarded for that loyalty to my profession not only with an amazing win at St. Clair, but also with one of the better waterfowl seasons I’ve enjoyed in a long time. I spent about 20 days hunting, both here in Minnesota and in Montana, and while there were a few tough days we also had a bunch of great ones.
It was mostly mallards, which are pretty much my favorites these days, although one of my friends shot a black duck, which is pretty rare around here. Five years ago I was obsessed with diver ducks. Five years from now I may just shoot geese. There’s always a new wrinkle on the sport.
Because of my recent success on tour, I’ve also been able to upgrade some of my gear. I used to use only the cheapest shells and a bunch of crappy decoys, but this year I upgraded just about everything – blinds, decoys, all of it.
I’ve been hunting with the same piece of crap shotgun since I got it for Christmas when I was 14. Last year I decided to treat myself to something nicer, but it didn’t shoot well at all. By the end of the season I went back to the old rusty one. This year my parents won another high-end shotgun at an NWTF dinner, and I bought it from them. For the second straight year, by the end of the year I’d gone back to old faithful. It’s kind of like fishing – every year I buy hundreds of dollars of untested tackle, including every crazy lure from Japan, and then I catch the majority of my fish flipping a jig or on a tube.
Now that I’m a father, I can’t necessarily go whenever I want to. Dayton is not thrilled when she’s off on the weekends and I want to go so I have to choose my days carefully. That means a lot more scouting and a lot less hunting. This season I got lucky. Up here when it’s super-cold, like under 20 degrees, the ducks don’t fly until the afternoon. They usually hit the cornfields around 1 or 2 p.m. That meant I could take my daughter to daycare, get set up to hunt by noon, blast a few, pick her up from daycare, and still be home before my wife. That’s about as perfect as it gets.
The duck season’s over now, which means it’s time to get serious about fishing again. The water is still hard in Minnesota, but our first Elite event is just about a month away and the Classic is in two months. I feel good mentally, and once I dial myself back in I’m hoping to pick up where I left off.