Hi. I post this by way of introduction. My name is Aleksei, I live in Samara, Russia, I'm a professor of English as a Foreign Lanugage, and also write articles for the Russian Hunting Magazine, Russian edition of Sports Afield, and the Safari magazine.
Summer duck opening day is a big thing where I live. Actually, it's The Opening Day, with all capital letters. Everyone who's got a gun and hunting license is out in the field on that day. Which makes for much noise, drunkenness, breach of safety rules, skypelletting, and other discomforts. But if you can find a place where only real hunters go, it can be a lot of fun.
It just so happened, that I missed the last four seasons. The 2010 season was not opened due to exceptionally dry summer and autumn, and the threat of forrest fires. Then... you see, my wife is a huntress and we hunt together, which is great, until you've got a baby. Our second child cost us three seasons, but now the babysitting problem is solved, so beware birds, here we come!
The season actually opens on the third Saturday of August, 16th this year, so now I'm on the choice stage. Where to go? There are a number of major choices. First is state land vs a private preserve. State land is few and mostly poor hunting ground, but it's cheap. Private preserves fall into two categories - the old ones, ran by hunting clubs left over from the Soviet times, and new ones, run commercially by modern capitalists. You guess which are better but more expensive ;) We want a bit of comfort, so we need a preserve with a lodge. This limits our choices, as not all preserves which offer duck hunting also feature sufficient lodge space; some older ones don't have a lodge at all. In summer the weather is usually fine, so most hunters prefer to break camp and live in tents anyway (the opening day is at least an overnight business, with most hunters coming in on Friday and staying until Monday).
Then the locality. We have two types of duck hunting areas. First is the bottom of the Volga river. It is a major migration route, and will be fantastic a few months later when the 'northeners' arrive. But it's not always very suitable for hunting in summer, when the object are local, homegrown birds. Here you want to be on the second habitat type - shallow, reed-grown steppe lakes. Their biggest advantage is that you don't have to have a boat - most of these lakes are not only easily accessable by car, but wadable all the way through. They host an incredible number of mallard and teal, which can be shot by walking them up or by pass shooting. When there are lots of hunters, as usual on the opening day, however, walking up is unsafe and is banned.
If you haven't seen it, it's hard to imagine what happens on the steppe lake when the right number of hunters enters it on the opening day. The lake is more like a pen of water overgrown with reeds, and it just explodes with ducks. The old ones already forgot what a hunter looks like, and the new ones didn't get to learn yet, so there's much panic and quacking and flatter of the wings. The birds make away as the hunters rush in to take places close to the middle of the lake, and are shot by lazier or smarter hunters who took their stands next to the perimeter. But the 'insiders' will get their share of shooting too when the ducks begin to return to the lake - or, as it happens, birds from a neighbouring lake come in to see if this one is safer.
The canonade goes on without pauses; I remember that on my second opening day I had 50 cartridges with me and had to return to the car for more in a bit more than an hour (I dropped only four birds). But it doesn't happen often. If there are too few hunters, the ducks soon find refuge and settle; too many and the birds won't get in anyone's range as there will be always someone spooking them or starting away at 200 meters of range.
Well, now, enough for the present. My next post here will be about the guns, ammo, and pre-season practice.