Experience is a nasty instructor. It tests us before it teaches us. After a lifetime of field testing, I've learned many hunting lessons the hard way. Here are a few:
A kid's first duck, goose, pheasant or deer is far more important than a mentor's 51st. Teaching a youngster how to hunt is a down payment on the future of the sport we love.
Relationships with hunting partners are more important than any duck, deer, pheasant and, maybe even, gobbler.
Young dogs do not learn from old dogs on opening day. Young dogs learn from humans in repetitive training sessions before opening day.
A bad turkey, duck or goose call is worse than no call.
Nowadays, when hunting anything except deer, geese and turkeys, the good old days really were better.
In churches, movie theaters and duck blinds, cell phones should be turned off.
This simple statement, uttered in deer camp, softens the hearts of hosts and guarantees we'll be invited back: "I'll do the dishes."
A hunter is concerned with camouflage, blinds, landowner relations, decoys, dogs and much more. A shooter is concerned only with guns and ammunition. The two rarely mix well afield.
Gun dogs, like wingshooters, can have off days. If your dog is having a really bad day and you find yourself losing your temper, do what pro trainers do and put the dog away until things cool off.
A claimer's wing-shooting ability is inversely proportional to the number of times he says "my bird" on any given trip.
A wild turkey can run like a race horse and fly like a pheasant. He can also see us blink and hear us think. If he could smell like a deer, we'd never bag one.
Hunting dogs don't live long enough.
The bargain price we negotiated on that new shotgun seems high after our third straight miss.
Even a pinhole leak in our November waders is enough to ruin a hunt.
Bobwhite quail and pheasants run more and sit tight less than they did 50 years ago. We've taught them to do that.
There is no longer such thing as an evening shoot in most duck hunting states.
When we're duck hunting and all the birds seem to be flying over the next point, we better pick up and move. Dictated by wind and clouds, ducks assign themselves invisible vectors in the sky, and seldom stray from them.
Good turkey hunting advice: Sit like there's a gobbler watching you.
For more successful hunting trips, go where the game is.
We always feel better about ourselves as hunters when we play by the rules. This is especially true when no one is watching.
The most important item on our hunting-trip planning list: which partner.
When we're missing shots we would normally make, it's rarely the tools and almost always the carpenter. We need to spend some time at the trap range, skeet range or gun range to check for flaws in our shooting mechanics.
When it says the hunting coat is "water resistant" in the catalog, that doesn't necessarily translate to waterproof in the field.
As turkey hunters, when we say it was too cold for the gobblers to be interested or that they were all henned-up, we're really saying we need to practice more on our calls.
Gun dogs lose interest on a slow day, too.
As hunters, the best way to pay tribute to the prey we harvest is a game feast. We gather with kindred spirits around carefully prepared dishes in a celebration of the bounties of nature.
Hunting is recreation, not competition. As hunters we shouldn't pit ourselves against one another. We compete only with the game we seek in a fair-chase manner.
As much as we might like to, we can't clone one gun dog with another just like her. It just doesn't work that way. But the next dog, like the next day, brings new promise.
The best hunting trip we'll ever take is the next one.
Bill Klein lives in Stillwater.