February 2018
From Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Managing Pressure – the Key to Success

It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about your job or hunting, you’ve got to learn to manage pressure.

 

Joey Dobbs, chairman of the Conservation Advisory Board, with some of the wood ducks he shot after the snowstorm.

   
   

I’ve been drawing a blank when trying to find a topic for this month’s article. As I am writing, it’s December, hunting season is in full swing, and there is an endless supply of issues at work. I’m tired, stressed and about brain-dead. After an incredibly hectic and frustrating week at work, I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend in the woods where I could clear my mind and get back on track.

Thursday afternoon, weather forecasters began predicting a winter storm that I paid absolutely no attention to. I was getting started with a very important meeting Friday morning when I received an email advising us of the winter weather moving into our area.

By lunch, the rain had turned into sleet. By 2, snow was falling and we were scrambling to finish the meeting and trying to ensure our employees could get home safely.

By 2:30, I was beginning my typical 2.5-hour trip toward Choctaw County for my weekend of relaxation. Five hours later, I finally made it. It was an extremely nerve-wracking trip. The weather forecasters got this one correct. Power was out all over, cars were in the ditches and snow was falling at a rate I’d never seen in Alabama. By the time I made it, snow was approximately 6 inches deep and my stress-free weekend wasn’t starting so well.

My stress level was not getting better at all. In fact, it was much worse after that horrendous drive. But, as the weekend progressed, I began getting better by the hour.

Saturday morning, a friend and I had an incredible early morning wood duck hunt. The backdrop of bald cypress and water oaks was covered with a beautiful blanket of snow. It was a beautiful morning, and we took our limit of drakes.

In the same area, several other groups of hunters were doing their fair share of shooting, as well. Ducks were flying everywhere.

We decided to try our luck again bright and early Sunday morning. We scraped out a limit of ducks, but the numbers were down considerably from the previous morning. Again, several other groups of hunters were in the area, and their shot count was down, too.

We drove past the boat ramp on the way to the camp and stopped to talk with two boatloads of duck hunters. When I asked how their hunt went, they said it was very poor and they couldn’t understand what was different.

They said, "Friday morning was incredible, yesterday was good and today was terrible."

Chuck Sykes with two of the wood ducks he shot during the same hunt.

 

At that moment, I was given the topic for my article.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your job or hunting, too much pressure can be devastating to your success. I’ve seen it time and time again with deer hunters. They hunt the same food plot over and over because it’s their favorite. They pay no attention to the wind or the fact that the constant disturbance in the area is causing the deer to change their pattern and sightings are going down as a result.

But, for some reason, when the duck hunters didn’t recognize it, it really hit home with me.

Unlike ducks in Arkansas or even north Alabama where new flights of ducks are periodically coming into the area, most of our wood ducks are residents. Therefore, we must be much more cautious with our hunting strategy.

I have several little openings along the creek where water oaks drop acorns in the shallow water that I can take a limit of wood ducks on most mornings. But, I’m very careful not to overhunt each spot. I’ll shoot my three as quickly as possible and get out where the remaining ducks can come and feed and loaf around until they go to roost in late afternoon.

The area I’m hunting is private land, but it has limited access from the Tombigbee River. So, other hunters can access a portion of the creek where I hunt if they don’t mind taking a cold boat ride before daylight, dodging barges on the river and floating logs and debris in the feeder creeks. They can hunt this area if they stay in the boat.

I’ve had to remind a few of them over the past few years that if they get on the bank or even stand up in the water with waders that they are trespassing and can be issued a citation. In addition, they must stay in areas of the creek accessible during normal water levels. They can’t take advantage of a high-water event to get onto private property.

I’m using wood duck hunting to prove the point of this article because of what I encountered with the duck hunters. They have one place they apparently love to hunt and, instead of finding other areas, they keep returning time and time again – in this instance, three days in a row. Their success went down with each consecutive day.

My point is this, wouldn’t it be wiser to hunt one day in your favorite spot and have a successful hunt by taking your limit of ducks instead of hunting the same spot three days in a row and killing the same number of ducks?

It doesn’t matter if it’s your best food plot or your preferred duck hole. Hunting pressure can turn your favorite place to hunt into a disaster. Managing hunting pressure can be the difference in having a full freezer or tag soup.

 

 

 

Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.