The Information Highway for the Outdoors

Water Swatting…. Ethical?

Water swatting! Oh yes, lets tip toe on the edge of some very interesting hunting ethics. I guess we should first start with a definition. Basically shooting ducks or other waterfowl while they are sitting on the water. It is genuinely thought that if you practice this technique, you are not giving the birds their chance to fair chase.
The term “hot topic” (I’m not referring to the clothing store) comes to mind when these discussions get started between duck hunters. Especially our elder seasoned duck hunters. Come to think of it an instance comes to mind that had to be broke up before it got out of control.
Ok, even though this is not meat of this story. I kinda feel like I brought the cake out, (I) at least have to let you eat it.
A buddy of mine and I were hunting public land in southern Michigan. It was opening day of deer season, which happen to coincide with the opener of duck season. We are hunting a public preserve, that only allows duck hunting for the first 21 days of the season. It is perfect and heavily hunted. An estimate would be about 10 miles square of pristine tamarack swamp, natural springs, ponds, small lakes, and flooded timber. (I know, couldn’t get much better) Well for me it does. The first mile or so is awesome public crp land that stands 4 foot tall, and holds tons of pheasant. Then you have the oak groves, that seem to rise out of the swamp in such a way that you are sure, you have died and gone to wood duck heaven. Better yet, no motorized vehicles are allowed, on land or water, and with a minimum mile hike in, this keep the fair weather duck hunter watching duck dynasty. (although they didn’t exist yet) so, more accurately, Duck Commander videos.
Dates and I don’t get along, but I would say it was near the year 2001 give or take a couple. My buddy and I had taken up bow hunting in the previous years in an effort to tag out on deer between duck seasons. A practice I still employ to this day. If not tagged out we vowed that only sunny blue bird days would be dedicated to chasing ungulates. All other days were strictly for fowl, and simply there we no acceptations.
We worked at a factory on the night shift,6pm-6am. A truly weird schedule of 5 nights one week, two the next. The preserve was about ten minutes from our job. So, at 6:10 every morning we were hunting. We became unbelievably efficient at setting small spreads, and moving rapidly, yet stealthy in the pre dawn light. Most mornings we could be set up after a two mile trek, by about 6:35am. For my math guru’s we were indeed running, with six decoys each, one mojo, what seemed like ten pounds of tungsten, and our weapons of choice. For me it’s the 870, for him the model 12. Not quite a full sprint, yet not far from it, we covered ground every morning quickly and quietly. After many hunts we come upon a group of hunting in the parking area. They’d ask us if we heard the strange sounds, just before first light. If I recall correctly, we have been everything from a black panther, to big foot. Hershel (the friend) and only fueled their fires, with our own rendition of out outrageous explanations. Hmm, still makes me chuckle.
Any who, like most pristine public hunting lands with a special season, you had to work to get away from the crowds, and still then you almost always had at least one other group, withing ear shot. Needless to say, we spent many days hunting what we called. “Pull, Duck, Recover” This explained. Pull the trigger, duck down and wait for the other hunters shot to rain down all around, then send my golden to recover our birds. These area’s weren’t small by any means, but the accessible ones were long, and usually narrow. Not so much so, that you worried with being shot directly, but after a few dozen #2’s rained down on your head, it became uncomfortable.
This morning was a day off for us, we decided woodduck heaven was our spot of choice. Almost 4 miles to this spot. We loved it and was rarely bothered by hunting pressure.It was 4 miles or more from any access. Actually, up until this day we thought we were the only ones that knew of this area.
Perfect was to vague to describe it. It was a pond of open water that supported a large crop of duckweed 4 miles in the crap. Then it gets better. To the left was a labyrinth of tannin filled swamp water. Which feed the pond with it’s nutrient rich spring water. To the right about a hundred yards, lay the most perfect rendition of the hover dam beaver style. For the most part the water was knee deep, with only about one foot of muck on the bottom. The banks were gradual and filled with a sandy loam and pea pebble mixture. Cat tails had grown by the beaver dam this year, and some Hydrilla blanketed the bottom. The canvas was nearly perfect. If only we had White oaks it would be the best spot ever!
Well, come to think of it, directly across and behind us, was exactly that, a mixture of the largest crop of white and red oaks we had seen in the area. We coined this spot woodduck heaven.
On this morning we left early, but evidently not early enough. Two cars entered the parking area, as we settled our gear into it’s respective spots on and in our packs. We headed off thinking for sure we had at least a 5 min head start. With our exasperating pace, we felt confident we would lose our, would be, competitors long before they ever even thought about following.
There was no moon this early morning, about 4:30ish, so we needed the head lamps for most of the journey. This and our conservation of the bag limits of woodies, mallards, and shovelers, was our downfall. See normally opening day we take evasive maneuvers to protect our spot. This consisted of stopping occasionally. Shutting down the lights, talking loudly about decoy placements, splashing water when available for at least 5 min in key spots that we “ducky”. I might add this works well, for the followers, but DEER Hunters absolutely despise all of this scenario.
Hehe, I say, grab a Matthews buddy and get r done. Maybe not the most compassionate about this, but public land is public land, and we never went out of our way to destroy anyone’s hunts. Well, other than a box or two of kent’s at day break on opening morning.
Needless to say, we were followed by a group of two deer hunters and a foursome of die hard duck hunters. This we knighted to our fellow opening day deer season comrades. The deer hunters found us first as we were setting up decoy’s. They slipped in with a short conversation, about how they hoped like hell we could get them back after the hunt.
Dan and David, father 50ish son in his 30’s. From the area, but had never been out before, on this chunk of the wilderness. We engaged in a short 5 min dialogue and assured them that we would be sleeping on the bank around noonish, They, could come down, we would cook up some duck vitals and make a shore lunch of it. We told them that we would be out all day, but one of us would help them back if they were gonna bug out earlier. We parted ways giving them some details of spots we would try, about 500 yards, or so.Just through a maple grove we had just scouted a week back. On our scouting mission we had jumped a nice 8 and two forkies on the edge of the maples. They thanked us for our kindness and headed in the direction.
Shortly after they left, maybe 5:45am, we heard this ruckus begin to develope down the trail. The unmistakable clanking of decoys and duck calls. Followed shortly thereafter with voices bickering about which direction the guys that were “hauling ass” went. Hershel and I shared quite the giggle over the next five minutes. As they obviously, were a family unit that had no idea where they were, and arguably had lost their focus on what they intended to accomplish that morning. We listened to this for what seemed like 15 minutes. As they passed by us at least 6 times.
At one point, I was sure they spotted me, with the youngest Maybe 12 standing 2 yards from Rascal (my golden Retriever) and myself. Rascal, hunkered down like he was a sniper on a covert mission. (He was the greatest dog I’ve ever owned. I’ll do a tribute to him in a later story.) Lets just say Hershel and I were convinced that he understood English better than us, along with sign language, and morse code.
We withstood the chatter for about 5 more minutes. Then, fearing our own hunt might be in jeopardy, we spoke up. I’m pretty sure some excrement passed when Hershel (all 6’3 240lbs of him) stood up some 5 yards from there position. With less cuth than I he said, ” Hey Jackasses we are over here. Walk to our right about a hundred yards, cross the Hoover dam and hunt the other side of the pond. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but would you hurry the *&^% up. I don’t want yall to screw up the first light flight.”
I think after they checked their waders. They figured it might be best to follow the directions/orders. They scurried along the path still bickering, like a 7 and 8 yr old sibling pair. They were set up with about 10 minutes to spare. Just off to our right and in front of us. Maybe 200 yards away. We could still hear the faint squabble about, who’s fault it was they got lost, and how this better be the honey hole.
So, there we sat, with already a mornings worth of antics before us, perched and ready for prime time in wood duck heaven. The last ten minutes seemed to take an eternity, but then the faint chirps from the wood ducks started to echo through the timber. Shortly there after we started wwIII and engaged the barrage of bogies that were trying to compromise our position. Within ten minutes we had limited on wood ducks.(three drakes for Hershel, and two drakes, and hen my way.) All was perfect in the world.
Until the water swat… The group of four we assume, (dad in 40’s, eldest son 17ish, then maybe a 15 and 12 year old, all boys) had a group of mallards fly in and land in the decoys. Looked like three hens and one drake as they balked, at rascal recovering a scuba diving wood duck, and flew their way. They had already committed to land before the balk, so they just slightly adjusted the flight plan and skimmed in across the pond. The following event’s still make me laugh.
Hershel and I watched the birds as they committed, what was surely hairy kari. They skimmed in, as opposed to dropped in directly into the center of the spread. The transcript went as follows. Old man, “wait, Wait, WAIT!!!!” ducks hit their landing strip, instantaneously a barrage of anti aircraft fire filled the air with shrapnel. The water erupted with little meteorites, and ducks. They keep firing till their guns were empty.
Hershel,”1…2…3…4…are you kidding me they didn’t get any.” Me “Nope! They got some alright!” as I watched their twelve duck spread quickly become a 3 duck spread. Hershel belly laugh so hard he thought he was gonna puke, and the tears were flowing from my eyes like a kid with a stubbed toe. I’m pretty sure this only fueled the old man’s anger. We sat there and listened to him rip them up and down for the next half hour about how water swatting is illegal, and that he’d turn them into the game warden himself. yada yada.
We’d finally had enough and promptly popped a couple of warning shots, over their heads, at some ring necks we had no intention of hitting. We did it in a safe manner with guns greater than 45 degrees and just left of their position, but close enough for the shot to fall behind, and beside their position. The father bounced out of his position and darted into the water as if to rescue his already drowned spread. He took maybe two steps and trip face first into the low 40 degree water. Maybe childishly we erupted again.
To add insult to injury, as he wrapped up his rescue mission, Hershel and I finished our limit with with three shots each, out of one large group that flew into out spread. Again, maybe childishly, we water swatted all of them. The foursome packed up and left. I remember thinking to myself, what a shame it was for those boys to have that experience as their possibly, a first duck hunt. I tried to convince my partner to let me ask the old man, if we could take the boy’s under our wings for the rest of the morning hunt. Their complete silence as they passed, convinced us to keep our mouths shut.
Ok, funny as it was, here’s my take on the water swat. If you take the time to learn to setup decoy spreads, calling, scouting, and get setup early. You have earned the right to water swat a bird that lands in your spread. It is most certainly is not illegal, and as with all hunting, you should take the highest percentage shot possible.
My arguments and rebuttals are as follows:
1. You gave the birds the chance not to land. You set your spread so well that they did. In my opinion you more than did your share of the fair chase.
2. After losing many birds that mysteriously go under and never come up. (I’ve classified them as sinners). The water swat head shot is clean and decisive.
3. Believe you me I miss, but I’m a pretty damn good shot also. I’ve hunted quail, pheasant, grouse, ducks, woodcock, chucker,and dove from diapers it seems.
4. It’s not too easy, in some ways it’s a more difficult shot. As to pull it off without hitting the decoys can be fun sometimes. You only get one, as your second and third will be in flight. When you get good at it, you can take em at 40-50 yards. See my Full circle Intro video for some footage on this.
5. It’s the absolute best way to get young kids involved in the hunt. My nine year old has been hunting ducks since five, and this is the first year, I have let him take anything else, but a water swat.
6. Maybe a stretch, but you tend to lose a lot less meat,also.

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