Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Travel Trick

Renewing your passport is an expensive pain, in part because you have to find a place that can take the very specific type of unflattering photos the U.S. government requires. Now you can make them yourself with Snap a headshot against a white wall with your digital camera, upload the photo, and the site will resize and crop it to passport specifications. Print six photos Oh a 4×6 sheet, or order a set from an online photo service.

Popular Science

Shoot More Ducks

Ten fun tips to improve your waterfowl season

The basics of duck hunting are the same no matter where you are: decoys, calls, shotguns and shells, blinds, bracing weather and, most important, ducks to work. But over the years you come across a few useful tricks. Here are some of mine.

When I was a boy my father would take me with him to a railroad Sack that ran alongside a local lake. Ducks would trade back and forth between the lake and another marsh a mile or so away. When the ducks left the lake, they flew over a steep hill and then the railroad bed, which was even higher.

Many of the ducks were well within range when they crossed the railroad track, which made for some excellent pass shooting. I hunted with my first shotgun, a single-shot 16-gauge Winchester Model 37, and my father quickly taught me how to hit the high overhead shot, coming or going. "Start behind the duck and swing through. When the bird is blotted out by your barrel, pull the trigger and keep on swinging," he told me. It was solid advice, and 40-some-odd years later, the high overhead shot is the only one I'd ever bet money on making.

On late-season hunts it's often necessary to knock a hole in the ice for decoys. Always try to break the ice in large slabs and then slide them under the secure ice on the edges of the hole. If you simply break the ice into small chunks and throw the decoys out into the mix, ducks will be reluctant to decoy. I've found that if I can't break the ice into slabs, I'm better off just setting my decoys on the ice. Like some scotch drinkers, ducks don't like ice cubes.

Entire books have been written about the subject of how to set out decoys. Most have pretty drawings, too. I've tried some of them and they do work, but none better than my old "twin-blob spread." Just toss a blob of decoys to the left and a blob to the fight, leaving a sweet spot in the middle. Sounds too easy, fight? Well, sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.

Many hunters insist upon putting most of their decoys well within range and then putting one or two decoys almost out of range. Such "marker" decoys are intended to serve as a range reference for hunters when ducks come in. What the way-out decoys often do instead is entice ducks to land not only short of the main spread, but short of the markers as well. If you need a range indicator, use a stick or pole stuck in the mud instead of decoys.

When my father was in his 40s, he went partially blind in his fight eye and was forced to train himself to shoot lefthanded. Because of that experience, as soon as I became somewhat adept at shooting from my natural side--the fight side--my father insisted that I learn to shoot left-handed as well. At the time I thought it was totally unnecessary, but evening after evening I would stand in the middle of the living room floor, an empty shotgun in my hands, snapping the stock to my left shoulder as Pa tossed my mother's couch pillows across the room. I've got to admit, Pa was fight. Being able to shoot from either side paid off in the duck blind on those hard over-the-right-shoulder screamers that most right-handers, including this one, find nearly impossible. Practicing left-handed won't cost you anything, so give it a try.

I grew up hunting ducks in an era when duck hunters, almost to a man, favored 12-gauge pumps and semi-autos with 30- or 32-inch barrels and full chokes. Many hunters continue to hunt with the same sort of guns today, and in doing so they are unwittingly handicapping themselves. After having tested steel shot from all the major ammunition manufacturers through a variety of guns and chokes, I have never found a fullchoke barrel that did not leave holes in the pattern a teal could fly through. A modified or improved-cylinder choke is best for steel.

If you want to stick with Ol' Betsy, spring for the extra bucks and shoot either Bismuth or Kent TungstenMatrix. These nontoxic loads pattern beautifully through a full choke. Federal's popular Tungsten-Iron loads pattern best from either improved or modified chokes. HEVI-Shot, another nontoxic option, patterns so tightly that unless you're in a situation where long shots are going to be the rule of the day, you're better off with less choke constriction.

When hunting flooded timber on a sunny day, always lean against the shady side of the tree. Ducks will have a much more difficult time spotting you in the shade than they will if you're standing in bright sun.

The biggest problem with a cloth boat blind is that the cloth can billow and flap unnaturally in a stiff breeze. Ducks often flare from such unnatural movement. My buddy Tommy Akin taught me how to correct the problem. Using short lengths of cord, tie a decoy anchor to the blind every few feet. Adjust the cords so that the anchors hang down a couple of feet into the water but don't touch bottom. You'll have no more duck-spooking flap.

Stuffed into a plastic bag in one comer of my shooting box are a couple of pairs of women's pantyhose (save the wisecracks). When I shoot a duck I want to save for mounting, the pantyhose afford the protection needed to ensure that the bird will arrive at the taxidermist's shop in perfect condition, just slip the duck headfirst into one leg of the pantyhose. When you take the duck to the taxidermist, cut the pantyhose below the head and lift the duck out. Don't try to back it out the way it went in or you'll bend and break the feathers.

Have you ever noticed that some hunters routinely take a pair or even three ducks out of a decoying flock, while others struggle to scratch down a single bird? Hunters who make a habit of doubling or tripling never, never take the easy bird first when a flock decoys. Conversely, hunters who rarely double always take the "candy" bird first. If you want more doubles and triples, pick a drake towards the middle or back of the flock for your first shot. After that, go to work on the lead birds. Usually the lead birds will be stalled out over the decoys and it will take them a second or two to reverse gears. This makes number two--and sometimes number three--much easier pickings.

If you're successful in bringing home a few ducks this season, you might enjoy this simple recipe.

1 Split the ducks in half and marinate them with a couple of quartered onions overnight in your favorite marinade. (Hickory- or mesquite-flavored marinades complement the taste of duck very well.)
2 Place the ducks and onions on a charcoal or gas grill and cook at medium heat for about 10 minutes per side. Do not overcook. Anything past pink is too well-done.
3 Remove the ducks from the grill, slice the onions over the top and dig in.

By Gary Clancy, Outdoor Life, Sep2006