Odd-numbered shell boxes, pre-hunt playlists, never-fail headwear and more
Most duck hunters aren’t also professional athletes, but many of us share a trait with Major League ball players: We have distinct pre-game rituals and crazy superstitions.
I’m not talking about four-leafed clovers and a fear of black cats. We have some seriously weird rites and traditional beliefs that we believe might actually affect the outcome of a hunt or even a season. Some folks say this isn’t a bad thing, as rituals and superstitions promote a positive mental attitude. To me, these behaviors are just amusing quirks.
Then again, I’m guiltier of this than anyone I know.
Waders and Shells
When putting on my waders, I always slip on the left foot first. Then, I make sure I have an odd number of shells in my shell box. Carrying 25 is fine. If I expect lots of action, maybe I’ll even go with 29. But 30? That’s just asking for trouble.
Next I check the decoy bag, making sure it holds an odd number of blocks: 21 is perfect for small-water hunts, and 77 seems pretty lucky for big-water forays. But even 13 is better than using an even number. Don’t forget that spinning-wing decoys count, too. So, if you toss out 20 blocks, the spinner becomes lucky No. 21. But if you have to pull it, you’d better swap it with another decoy, too, because you don’t want to get stuck hunting over a spread of 20.
While driving to and from hunts, I try to avoid listening to songs that bring bad fortune. This has become much easier in the digital age, as you can stack your playlist with lucky tunes. Relying on FM radio in the 1980s and 1990s was risky.
When afield, I keep an eye out for good omens. A shooting star usually assures a great hunt. Witnessing multiple shooting stars might portend an epic shoot. That’s another reason why foggy or cloudy days can be tough.
“I’ve succumbed to numerous habits over the years, which I hate admitting to,” he said. “Most of my superstitions have started from enduring consecutive days of struggles, either due to weather, lulls in the migration, gear failure or other reasons. One of my lasting rituals involves my headgear. I always wore baseball hats on my hunts, but in the late 2000s, I hit a streak of warm weather and lulls with birds. One morning on my boat ride out, my hat flew off, and the river swallowed it. That isn’t uncommon, as I’ve lost numerous hats to the river, but I started thinking a change was needed. I had a rag/bandanna in my duck bag, and I put it on. Needless to say, the winds shifted, and birds came down. We killed limits that day. So I wore that Federal bandanna for years until the material started to fall apart. Then my wife sewed it together until it couldn’t be sewn anymore. I changed up my headgear at times when south and east winds wouldn’t seem to release their death grip, but I always came back to my rag, and northwest winds would pop up in the forecast.”
Realtree pro Chad Belding, host of The Fowl Life, admits to some quirky pre-hunt practices, too.
“I tuck my wader pants into my socks old-school style the same way every morning,” he said. “I tuck my compression undershirt in the same exact way each morning and then use the same belt to keep it from coming untucked during the hunt. And my last superstition is putting my lanyard around my neck the same exact way each morning, meaning I put my hood up on my jacket and make sure my call lanyard goes under it each time. And then I put the lanyard on with the same calls on each side every time.”
See, I’m not so odd. You probably have some crazy rituals and superstitions, too. And if they work for you, there’s no harm or reason to change.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to redistribute my ammo, because I’ve figured out why I got skunked on the final day of this past season. What whack job hits the marsh with 24 shells?
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.