Gypsy (jip’ se) n., pl –sies 1. A member of a wandering Caucasoid people, perhaps originating from India, with dark skin and dark hair.
Duck gypsy (duk jip’ se) n., pl –sies 1. A member of a nomadic tribe of intensely focused humanoids, perhaps originating from one or more of four major flyways, with camouflaged skin and hat-covered hair. Rare sightings only during September through January. Speaks in loud, raucous quacks, whistles and honks.
You see them first in Canada. Places like the Peace River drainage in northern Alberta. Regina in Saskatchewan. Small towns like Morris, Manitoba. This is September.
Come October, the same folks appear in the U.S. In Kramer, ND, and along Minnesota’s St. Croix River. November, and they’re sighted on the shores of the Platte River in Nebraska. Perhaps in a hollowed-out cypress stump on Tennesse’s Reelfoot Lake. Finally, round about Christmas, they show up in Stuttgart, AR. Some in Lake Charles, LA. Others in El Campo, TX.
Then, as quickly as they appeared, they’re gone. Most by the third week of January. A handful follow the northward migration of the Arctic’s population of white geese up the Missouri River Valley and through the Rainwater Basin well into March. But then these diehards, too, vanish.
Who are these individuals? These are the duck gypsies, dedicated waterfowling enthusiasts who think nothing of pointing their Ford F-150s southward once the first chills of winter have driven the mallards and widgeon and sprig from their Canadian nesting grounds, and stopping only once they’ve reached the famed flooded timbers of Arkansas’ Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. These are the wanderers, the — as the definition above states — most nomadic of hunters. Like the birds they seek, these waterfowlers are migratory. Some, a lucky few, start in the North and complete the trip to the South; others, those perhaps with time, finances or a combination of the twain at more of a premium, prefer shorter, more blitzkrieg-esque ventures. Still, and regardless of whether the trip lasts a month or a weekend, they are gypsies nonetheless.
Just what does it take to make a duck gypsy out of an otherwise sane outdoor enthusiast? First of all, let’s disperse with the myth that in order to be a duck gypsy by definition, one must possess both three months of available vacation time and an unlimited bankroll. Certainly, those things would be nice and would, without question, assist any potential duck gypsy; however, nice and necessity are often two entirely different things.
To the gypsy, time can range anywhere from a three-day weekend to a two-week waterfowling hiatus. In fact, the length of time spent in the field really doesn’t enter into the equation at all, but rather that the trip did indeed take place. Armed with this philosophy, the duck gypsy then works diligently to make the most of his or her time in the field. Every time. Period.
Then there’s the issue of money. Again, a pleasingly plump wallet might make logistical considerations such as travel easier. Still, a nomadic venture need not be expensive. Most duck gypsies pride themselves on stretching the value of their hard-earned dollars far beyond the limits of most mortal monies. A $1,000 trip for $59.95? Even if duck one wasn’t brought to bag, most wanderers would consider such an outing an incredible success.
All right. So a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money aren’t requirements for those wishing to join the ranks of the country’s duck gypsies. What, pray tell, could be more important than money or time? For starters, information.
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Information — good, accurate, and up-to-the-minute information, that is — is probably the most important thing the duck gypsy can have. Not surprisingly, the access to and possession of such information relates directly to both time and money, allowing users to maximize time while simultaneously restricting their outbound cash flow.
This, then, raises not one but two questions. First, what type of information is the duck gypsy looking for? And secondly, where can this information be found?
Contrary to popular belief, the question of “where to hunt” isn’t necessarily the first question to be addressed. In most cases, items such as season dates, regulations, non-resident restrictions, early application deadlines and licensing procedures hold a higher precedence. Season dates, for instance, will play a major role in when the trip actually does take place. And what about early application deadlines? September is a very, very poor time for the Iowa resident to be planning an October waterfowl excursion to the pothole region of eastern South Dakota. Why? The application deadline for South Dakota non-resident waterfowl permits came and went as of the third week of June.
Eventually, the issue of where to go, too, must be researched. Fortunately, this information, as well as the majority of the logistical and organizational concerns, can be found merely by taking a stroll along the Information Superhighway.
“One of the most useful tools I use anytime I’m planning a hunting trip away from home is the Internet. There’s just all kinds of waterfowl-related websites, including some very localized sites that can really prove useful,” says John Vaca. A bonafide duck gypsy and member of the Final Approach Pro-Staff, Vaca, 47, spends some 50 or more days away from his Liberty, MO, home each fall, all in search of mallards, widgeon, pintails, Canadas — essentially, anything that flies. To date, Vaca’s travels have taken him from the barley fields around Stonewall, Manitoba, Canada, south to the flooded rice fields near Stuttgart, AR, and as far west as Potholes Reservoir in eastern Washington. And while much of the actual travel time was done alone, the pre-trip planning and organization was anything but a solo effort.
“You can always take the information that you’ve found on the Internet, then, and actually get in contact with a group such as the Army Corps of Engineers or a state fish and wildlife agency in a particular location in order to get some maps or some more specific details. Too, there’s a chance you can start talking online with some of the hunters in a particular area and they can help you with a lot of the local details that otherwise might not be available” said Vaca.
Traditionally, duck gypsies have been the ultimate freelance waterfowlers, relying solely on massive amounts of pre-trip information gathering and long-distance — that would be pre-Internet telephone use — scouting in order to ensure the success of their venture. Seldom, if ever, were guides factored into the equation. Today, however, time places new constraints on these otherwise free-range hunters. The result? A resurgence of the modern duck guide.
“I think there’s a lot of pros in choosing a guide. One, you don’t have to invest a lot of time scouting. You don’t have to invest the money in equipment. And you don’t have to have the in-depth local knowledge that’s so often vital to success. It’s an easy-in, easy-out kind of deal,” says Vaca, who continued that those choosing to go the guide route should always thoroughly check the guide’s history and background, including asking for references.
“In my opinion, if someone’s not willing to give you references, it’s an instant ‘no.’ If they say ‘no,’ right there that tells me they must not be worthy of references,” said the former guide.
On the flipside, are there any cons associated with employing the services of a guide? Well, there’s the money; however, Vaca contends that frugal gypsies may want to look at a guide’s fees not so much in a pay-to-hunt light, but moreso as resources spent on the best hands-on, in-depth scouting trip or fact-finding tour available.
“Simply put, there are more pluses than there are minuses when it comes to hiring a guide when you’re hunting a new area,” concluded Vaca.
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Driving or flying. Guided or unguided. Fifty miles or 500 miles. To the duck gypsy, the specifics as individual parts of the whole really don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that the whole — the trip itself — is well-organized. Key word? Organized.
“I’ll have a pad of paper on my desk that’s designated for nothing else but the (hunting) trip. Sure, you’re excited. And you’re thinking a lot about last year’s trip. Like, ‘Man, last year was great. All those birds. Hated to run out of shells.’ Now you’re thinking extra shells, and it goes on your list. And what about setting up the decoys in the dark using the headlights. Boy, a headlamp would have been nice. Boom, a headlamp goes on your list. Yeah, you can make a list in 10 minutes, but there’s always those little things — Ziplock bags, trash bags, batteries — that you’re not focused on because you’re focused on the trip as a whole. It’s the little things that will make your hunt a whole lot less complicated and a lot more successful,” said Vaca.