For the last seven years, Garrett Watkins has joined his in-laws to go duck and goose hunting annually in Nebraska. His wife Anna’s grandfather is a World War II veteran who has hunted ducks in the same place for eighty years; he learned the sport from his own grandfather, making the family a five-generation duck hunting family. As Garrett says, “It’s in their blood.”
Waterfowl hunting is unique in that the hunter waits for the birds to come to him. This takes place either in a pit blind (below ground) or a field blind (a collapsible tent). Blinds are devices used to conceal the hunter from the prey; they come in many forms, including purchased wooden structures or something as simple as a small depression in the ground where the hunters can camouflage themselves. Garrett’s family uses plastic ducks as decoys so the fowl in the air will think they have found a safe place for eating or nesting. Once they are within hearing range, they can be “decoyed in” with a duck call—a wooden or plastic whistle that imitates duck sounds—and the opportune moment to shoot them is when they come in for landing. “They ‘set’ their wings behind to land. Imagine a parachute slowing down in the air; they do this with their wings,” Garrett explains. His favorite part about duck hunting is not shooting the birds, but watching them decoy in and set their wings. Along with ducks, Garrett and his in-laws also catch geese; they put out decoys in the same place and “catch whatever flies in.”
Different states set different limits on how many ducks one party can shoot in a day; a log book at the blind keeps track of how many are caught, and the number often climbs past one thousand each year. As Garrett points out, however, most hunters are conservation-minded and aim to kill only the drakes (male ducks) and not the hens (females) in order to keep the sport alive and thriving. Garrett and his in-laws eat many of the ducks they kill, while the extras are given to food pantries. Reportedly, one delicious way to eat duck is to turn it into jerky and add jalapeños and cheese.
Interestingly, Garrett explains that his love of duck hunting does not change the way he thinks of all birds of the species. “I have absolutely no problem shooting a duck out of the sky or killing an injured duck… but I still think local ducks that you might find on the pond at the park are adorable, and I would never harm them. I like to feed them, and somehow I can categorically separate them from hunting. Strange, I know.”
Garrett’s favorite duck hunting experience was a time when he and his brothers-in-law got together for a field hunt. They were outside until sunset—the time when the sport must end—and witnessed a spectacular sight as an innumerable amount of birds gathered. “We watched thousands and thousands of ducks swarm around us even after shooting time. It was absolutely beautiful and amazing!”
The annual hunt is always a family affair, with multiple generations—sometimes including four or five young nieces and nephews—joining in. Naturally, this means the adults must be very strict about gun and hunter safety, but it creates an enjoyable experience for the youngsters. Garrett’s three-year-old son, Malachi, a little duck hunter in training, has gone with the group before and enjoyed it immensely, his favorite part being the snacks his granddad gives him. Typically, the women choose not to participate because “it’s muddy, early in the morning, and cold;” Garrett’s wife, Anna, has never gone duck hunting and very likely will not change her mind in the future; however, those who do go have a wonderful time. Each morning, the entire group eats breakfast together in the blind, where the food is always delicious and hot. They certainly make the annual hunt a memorable experience, carrying on their family tradition into the next generation and proving that duck hunting is, indeed, in their blood.