Columns,  Conservation,  Hunting,  Personal,  Waterfowl

Why Misses Matter

Throughout duck season, we’ll attempt to keep you abreast of what we’re thinking, Monday Morning Quarterback-style, just with less football and more waterfowl

There was a time when Will didn’t want to hunt.

He was slight of build, which was tough to sort out with gun sizing, to say nothing of recoil in the way it related to the featherlight guns he could handle.

The first duck he ever shot, a pin-feathered bluebill that graces our living room wall, was followed by tears, due in large part to his first experience with #4 steel shot against his shoulder. 

I wasn’t sure he’d ever come around on it.

It’s a tough thing, as a dad, watching your kids, being so proud of them, loving them so hard, and just wanting them to absolutely fall in love with the things you love . . . maybe it’s baseball, or music, or reading . . . for me, it was hunting . . .

Parenting is so weird sometimes. We fixate on things that don’t really matter.  If Will never hunted, it wouldn’t change the way I felt about him, but it was still just a strange thing . . . I worried that if I pushed it too hard, he’d never come around, and I just wanted to spend time with him, so we reached an accord: he’d come on a few hunts every year, no worries about shooting.  I made it about snacks and hanging out, less about ducks.  Slowly but surely, he grew more inquisitive about what was happening, about what I was doing, and why. He began showing a small interest in shooting, and, not wanting to push, I just let it unfold.

Enter this season’s youth hunt.

This is the first year Florida has done a youth day before the season – the theory being the ducks haven’t been hunted yet, they’re less wary, and the kids will have more opportunities for success.  And man, that’s how it played out . . .

We were covered in birds, from every direction . . . I couldn’t point out shots fast enough, and, despite his best efforts, nothing fell.

Youth days are a day I try to protect, I try and make those days for myself and my boy . . . I get pulled in a million directions when duck season starts, and while I try my best, sometimes I can get too busy . . . guarding youth days for Will ensures we get that time together, just me and him . . .

Meanwhile, texts were rolling in from around the state – birds dumping in everywhere, one killed here, two there, none in many cases . . . it seems, newsflash, that ducks are hard to kill even when they’re diving into your decoy spreads.

And I think that’s great.

Imagine if it were easy.  Imagine if all these kids, trotted out around the state, imagine if every trigger pull resulted in falling ducks . . . the birds were dumb, and shots were easy to come by, but misses seemed to be the theme of the day.

About 2 hours into our hunt, I asked Will if he was ready to go, still cognizant that I wanted to make sure that we leave on high notes, that we keep building on what we’ve built . . . he smiled and said “Not yet Dad – I’m starting to get the hang of this . . . “

We talk about the stages of a sportsman, the shooter and the limit seeker and the trophy guy and the method guy and the sportsman . . . We talk about recruitment, and deer and hogs and ducks and turkeys . . . but we never talk about the misses . . .

The misses are crucial.

Those are the thin spaces, the casts with no hits, the hits with no hookups . . . They’re similar to what McGuane called “the long silences” between fish . . . They’re not germane to the story of the hunt in most cases, but they are unequivocally woven into the fabric of the story, whatever shape it takes . . . our progression as a sportsperson is often marked by the limits and trophies, but it’s built upon the misses, in a way that’s hard to explain well.

Will jabbered the whole way home from Youth Day, as I’m sure kids did to dads and uncles and friends all around the state . . . he wanted to head to the range, to practice, to get better, to seek the next rung, to figure the thing out . . . He wants to solve for the misses.

And that’s why they matter.

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