So You Want to Be A Waterfowl Guide?
There's nothing like waiting until the last day of the season for your first hunt. While I was whittling out late-season field time for chasing deer and rabbits, I almost let the waterfowl season get away from me completely. It wasn't until January 31 that I finally climbed in a pit, and that buzzer-beater goose hunt with friends near Crab Orchard Lake turned out to be a great time (look for the south zone waterfowl wrap-up in the late February issue of Illinois Outdoor News for the story and some perspectives on the season down there).
One of the friends I hunted with was Derek Jenkel, a long-time waterfowl guide at Pike's Hunting Club just east of the Crab Orchard Refuge, and my only hunt of the 2010-11 waterfowl season was his 65th out of 68 days. Getting to hunt every day is a good life but it can absolutely wear you down, and I'm glad to say he weathered it pretty well.
This wasn't my first time in a pit with a guide on the final day of a long season, and I know that the rigors of hunting day after day take their toll. You need only look at the guides' faces to see it. Think of the last time you hunted turkeys or deer for a week straight, then multiply that by eight or nine and you'll get the idea. Sure, professional guides get to be out there every day doing something they love, but it isn't an easy job. There are client expectations – including some unrealistic ones – which have to be dealt with diplomatically, and there are also a lot of things many of us take for granted that they sacrifice to "live the dream."
For some it's weeks away from home and family that gnaws on them; for others it's the little things. I couldn't help but laugh when Jenkel, a typically clean-cut guy, showed me cell phone photos of himself during late duck season. These photos, which I now jokingly refer to as his "Captain Caveman" pictures, emphasize the fact that even scheduling a haircut isn't easy when you wake before the chickens, hunt all day and go to bed at 8 p.m. for weeks straight. For the day after the season closer, he was excited about getting to eat a hot breakfast while actually watching the news on TV.
So here's to all the guides out there that ground out another year in the trenches. They're the first ones to call, the last ones to shoot, the chasers of other people's birds and the scapegoats when things go wrong. And they do it all for the love of the sport, a good spot to hunt and a little bit of cash. You have to tip your cap to them for their fortitude, and if you hunt with an outfitter, a tip of the legal tender variety would probably be appreciated as well. After all, a guy can only stand to eat so many ducks, and goose calls aren't exactly free.
Read more about Jay's recent waterfowl hunt in the Feb. 25 issue of Illinois Outdoor News.