Waterfowl hunting is often a group activity, and like any collective adventure, collaboration is key to everyone's enjoyment and safety, not to mention overall success. To that end, veteran duckman Chad Belding recommends entrusting one hunter to orchestrate the group's every move.
"It's important to designate a hunt leader, so everybody knows their role and works together toward a common goal from the time you get out of the truck until you all head for home," says Belding, host of the wildly popular "The Fowl Life" television show and a widely recognized waterfowl hunting expert.
Belding notes that while divvying up duties such as setting decoys and tending dogs is important, one of the hunt leader's main jobs is keeping the group on the same page when it comes to pulling the trigger on incoming birds.
"Calling the shots is absolutely critical to ensuring a safe and successful hunt for everyone," he says.
When choosing a leader, Belding recommends tapping a veteran hunter with ample experience in reading birds' body language and understanding the many variables involved in coordinating safe shooting opportunities for everyone in the blind.
"There's more to calling the shots than throwing the blind open and shouting ‘take 'em' when a duck flies by," he says. "You need to keep everybody in tune with what the birds are doing, so they're ready to go and know where to look at the moment of truth."
To make that happen, Belding encourages hunt leaders to keep their blind-mates abreast of key details such as the direction from which incoming ducks or geese are approaching. "Talk them through it so they're not surprised when it's go time," he adds. As for giving the group the green light, he recommends a clear, consistent command, such as "Get ‘em!" preceded by several warnings such as, "Get ready, get ready." "When I'm the hunt leader, the group knows that after the second ‘get ready' things are about to get interesting, so they're on point and ready for action," he says.
Since safety is paramount, Belding says the hunt leader must also lay down the law on particulars such as muzzle direction, shooting lanes, when to switch off safeties, and proper gun-handling after the shooting stops. "Set the tone that safety is no joke," he advises. "Let them know you better not hear a safety click off until the barrels are pointed at the birds, and that actions stay open and guns unloaded until everyone is back in the blind from picking up birds." In the event a single bird is approaching one side of the blind, Belding lets the group know that only one hunter will be standing for the shot. And when a flock veers off early or doesn't appear likely to commit, he tells the entire crew to sit tight.
Belding is also quick to point out the importance of making sure everyone has an enjoyable experience. "After safety, your main goal is everybody having fun and wanting to come back again," he says. "Wait to call the shots until all hunters have as fair and equal opportunities as possible." In a similar vein, he says it's also wise to rotate the job of hunt leader throughout the group on ensuing outings. "Giving everyone an opportunity to lead the charge helps keep egos in check, which can kill the fun of group hunting faster than almost anything else," he explains.
Team dissention is another thrill killer. Shot callers are subject to criticism when things don't go as planned, and Belding urges hunt leaders to foster the spirit of patience and cooperation. "Dissention will happen if you don't have the ideology that this is a team effort," he says. "The group needs to know that not everything is going to go perfectly, and that's just part of the mystery of hunting. When a bird flares or flock passes without a shot being fired, you don't drop your jaw and razz the hunt leader, you make adjustments and move forward to the next opportunity."
While leading the hunt is a big responsibility, Belding says once you get in a groove of confidently calling the shots, your group will respond accordingly. "Once you get the flow going and your group knows what to expect when you start whispering, talking faster or they hear the excitement in your voice, the whole hunt comes together," he says.