With mentors lacking, duck- and goose-hunting newbies are turning to video-posting educator-entertainers, but are there limitations to what you can learn?
By M.D. Johnson
My Old Man taught me how to hunt ducks. He took me. He showed me. He suffered through my mistakes, and, I believe, he relished my accomplishments. Like my first duck (1974). My first goose (1979). And the time I got frostbite while hunting the Scioto River in central Ohio (1987), and all the skin on my fingertips turned grey and sloughed off. Not an accomplishment, I don’t reckon, but he was there for that one, too.
My introduction into the waterfowling arts was, for the time, typical. We had fathers and uncles, grandfathers and that grumpy old guy next door who loved to hunt but generally hated everyone; still, and for whatever reason, he took a shine to us and would take us with him every now and again.
From these men, we learned the finer points of waterfowling. How to do this. How to do that. Decoys. Guns. Dogs. Wind. Range estimation. Sometimes the lessons came with praise; other things, with a swat upside the head.
Either way, we learned, and the schooling, at least for some of us, stuck. Today, it’s different. Fewer people hunt waterfowl. Period. And of those, there are fewer of the aforementioned blood relatives or crotchety old neighbors to show nimrods how to set a spread, run a call, train a dog, or patch a ripped set of waders. So, that said, who’s teaching this next generation how to duck hunt?
YOUTUBE, THAT’S WHO. Is it all being done, the education that is, via Al Gore’s Internet? Absolutely not, but here in the 2019-20 waterfowl season, an amazing number of new-to-the sport duck hunters are learning the ropes, per se, by watching hours and hours of YouTube videos.
Washington duck hunter Jeff Landers and his boys Nate and Ben are three of the many. I met Landers a year or so ago when I sold him a layout blind for his boy. A simple business transaction led to frequent conversations, the common denominator being waterfowl and waterfowl hunting.
Admittedly new to ‘fowling, Landers, a pastor/international missionary, wanted to get his sons involved, but understood his knowledge when it came to duck hunting was lacking. Enter YouTube.
“I wouldn’t say (YouTube) was our primary source of information,” Landers said. “We would connect with other men and women who had the experience, and we’d spend time with them in the field.
Then,” he continued, “the boys would come home and look on YouTube for specific things based on things they’d seen in the field. Things like ‘Why don’t more people hunt shovelers?’ or ‘Why aren’t coots as prized as other ducks?'”
“Too,” he said, “I think YouTube is a way to keep these new people engaged throughout the week until they can go hunting again. A lot of these people come home from a hunt, can’t stop thinking about it, and YouTube plays a key role in keeping them engaged. But it’s not necessarily the be all/end all of (duck hunting) training.”
Landers’ sons, like many novice waterfowlers across the nation, I’m sure, turn to YouTube not only for educational purposes, but for definition.
“Both of the boys,” he said, “have this exposure in the field, and then they come home and start researching what they’ve seen. They’ll watch videos, for instance, and then try what they’ve seen in the field the next time they’re out. Or they’ll make a mention of something they’ve seen, as in ‘Dad, did you know such-and-such?’ I’d say my boys are watching videos – outdoor videos – on a daily basis, but they’re using it more like a readily accessible encyclopedia or magazine.”
SHIFT GEARS A bit, if you don’t mind. I’ve been to Hutchinson, Kansas. I’ve hunted ducks on the Cheyenne Bottoms, pass-shot geese on the firing line, and stubbled layout blinds in more than one field. Trust me; it’s an incredible place, if you’re a waterfowler.
Thirty-one-year-old Bobby Guy lives there, and he lives and breathes waterfowl hunting. So much so that in 2016, he ran his first video episode on YouTube on a channel he calls BobbyGuyFilms.
“My goal,” reads the description on the home page of his channel, “is to teach waterfowl hunting. If you’re looking for big waterfowl hunting, you’ve found it.”
Apparently, Guy’s hitting the mark, as he definitely has an audience. Before this season opened, he had in the neighborhood of 24,000 subscribers; at this end of the season, it’s more than double that, 66,000-plus as of press time last month.
“Absolutely I consider myself both an educator and an entertainer,” he told me. “The 21st Century wants entertainment, but they want real entertainment. Not fake entertainment, like reality TV. So it’s both. On YouTube, I have to teach the world (how to duck hunt) in an entertaining way.”
And Guy practiced what he now preaches.
“I wasn’t blowing a duck call or a goose call at age 8 or 10 or 12. I didn’t have Dad to teach me how to duck hunt. My stepdad taught me how to quail hunt, but I had to go to YouTube to learn to duck hunt. To learn how to blow a feed chuckle on a duck call.”
That, he said, was 15 years ago or so. But surprisingly, Guy’s audience isn’t made up primarily of 15-year-olds. In fact, his primary viewing audience consists of men, ages 25 to 34, with his secondary group of visual consumers ranging from 34 to 42 years of age.
“I would say a heavy 75 percent, maybe 80 percent of my viewers are public (land) hunters in their first one or two years of duck hunting,” said Guy when we spoke last summer.
But with great power comes great responsibility. Guy is, like it or not – and note, I get the impression he absolutely loves what he does – a leader. A mentor. An educator to be mimicked.
“Everything I teach them (my viewers),” he said, “they do. They run with it. But there have been things,” he confided, “that I’ve done wrong. Where I’ve messed up. There is an element of self-responsibility. Of maturity. It is a heavy weight (I’ve taken on). It’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone. Not everyone should try to influence people. It can be very complicated, and it’s a lot of work.”
TODAY’S IS A very personal world. An immediate world. A reach-out-and-touch-damn-near-everyone-at-any-time world. And it’s all part of Guy’s program.
“I get a lot of people (in the field) holding their phone in front of their face saying, ‘Hey Bobby! What gun should I buy?’ or, ‘What duck spread should I use?’ or, ‘I want to hunt snow geese. What do I need?’ People are intrigued by waterfowl hunting. And it’s cool. A lot of these people are older, and they have a little money. And they found (duck hunting) on YouTube.”
“Let’s face it,” he continued, “commercial TV has gone down the tubes. You have YouTube in your pocket. It’s your nightly watch. It’s more personalized; in fact, it’s as personalized as it gets. You can subscribe to a YouTube blogger who does what you do. Or what you want to do, whether it’s a woman doing her nails or a guy teaching you to duck hunt.”
Do I use YouTube as an electronic educator? Damn right, I do. Via any number of channels, I’ve learned to build wooden display boxes, cheaply repair busted PVC pipe, fix small carburetors, and tend to blueberry bushes here in Wahkiakum County, on the Lower Columbia. Duck hunting, I learned from my father and face-to-face from a long line of men, who possessed collectively more seasons of experience than Carter has little liver pills.
Guys over 50, you know what I’m talking about. But the world is different now. Faster. More streamlined. Fewer fathers hunt; thus, fewer ’fowl teachers exist. Still, people, i.e. new waterfowlers, hunger for information. They crave it. Need it. But it needs to be the right information. Legally correct. Ethically strong. Responsible. Safe. Conscientious. Conservation-minded. So I ask guys like Guy and other online hunting educators: Are you doing it right? Are you?
ORIGINALLY, MY PLAN, so to speak, was to ride, albeit gently, both these YouTubers – non-traditional heathens – and those who “learned” waterfowl and waterfowl hunting electronically.
Also non-traditional heathens.
But then, as the kids from South Park would say, I learned something today. With grandpa gone, and with fathers and uncles at a premium, who’s going to teach these up-andcomers, if not for YouTube? Magazines – and my apologies, Dear Editor – have for the most part gone the way of buck-fifty fuel, and dreadfully fewer and further between are the newspapers with weekly outdoor columns, which, even if they did exist, would require the aforementioned reading, and we know that’s not cool.
So the question remains: Who, then, are the ‘fowling teachers, if not for YouTube? And, too, I’ll admit, if I had ridden these folks unmercifully, would I not be a hypocrite? Wasn’t it YouTube that taught me how to repair busted PVC pipe without digging up everything?
And wasn’t it YouTube that coached me when I was building dormers on the garage? And repairing the chimney? And replacing the throttle body gasket on Grandpa’s ’93 Chevy Work Truck? So is it a good thing, this YouTube, when it comes to teaching 21st Century duck hunters how to duck hunt? It can be, I reckon, as long as it’s being done right.
Which brings me to a final (really!) note regarding Internet-based instruction being done right. Yes, you can teach someone to duck hunt via YouTube. You can teach them the basics of patterning, decoy selection, spread design, concealment, wind direction, calls and calling, safety, and, to some extent, ethics. But before we go any further, let’s review the Five Stages of Hunting. You know them, right?
Stage 1, The Shooting Stage: The quality of the hunt is determined by the amount of shooting opportunities afforded
Stage 2, The Bag Limit Stage: The quality of the hunt is determined by the amount of game harvested. Limits
Stage 3, The Trophy Stage: The biggest buck; an all-greenhead limit, a 25-pound gobbler. The bigger, the better here
Stage 4, The Method Stage: How the hunt is accomplished is most important, e.g. a homemade muzzleloader or
hand-made game call
Stage 5, The Experience Stage: The time afield is what’s important, not the game harvested. This is the Sunrise Stage.
Back to YouTube. Yes, you can teach someone about Stages 1 through 4 online. You can show the viewer unplugged guns and spring snows (Shooting). You can show them straps of seven ducks (Limit), seven greenheads (Trophy), and a handturned double reed duck call (Method).
But can YouTube really – really – explain the psychological aspects\ associated with waterfowl hunting? Why we freeze? Why we suffer? Why we work so hard for a duck? One duck. Even no ducks?
Can YouTube convey the emotions involved with watching our 7-year-old grandson retrieve the pair of cacklers we just killed? The ones out of a small flock that followed an even smaller flock of lessers right into the heart of the 18-decoy spread at our feet?
Can YouTube get across to the nimrod the confusion – for lack of a better term – we predators feel when we realize we’re no longer the natural born killers we were at 25? And then the moment you realize, I’m okay with that.
I don’t think so.
I think YouTube has a place; yes, even among waterfowlers.
But I also think it most certainly has limitations. Human limitations. Stage Five is important; perhaps, for many, it’s the most important and most fulfilling of the five stages.
But it needs a person. A been-there and done-that waterfowler. For there are some things for which one must walk in those waders in order to understand. And there’s a huge part of waterfowling hunting that falls under that umbrella.
This story was originally published on NWSportsmanMag.