Some say hunter numbers are dwindling. Many reasons are given, such as less free time, a general urbanization of society, dwindling access and regulations that are too complicated and too oppressive.

It’s tough enough for a veteran, but imagine what it’s like for someone just getting into the sport. To get an idea, let’s look in on Mr. Average Novice.

I want to take up hunting and decide to start with something easy, like duck hunting. What could be more romantic than watching the sun rise over a spread of L.L. Bean cork decoys bobbing in the waters of Merrymeeting Bay?

First, I’ll need some kind of license. Of the 27 options the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife lists under “resident hunting license fee,” I can dismiss a bunch right off. I’m not a serviceman (thank you for your service).

And I don’t plan to hunt crows, bears or pheasants, or with any type of archery equipment. I’d like to, but it’s too complicated to figure out which licenses or permits I would need in addition to or instead of my hunting license.

It looks like “hunting license” should do it. I might be able to save $9 going with a small game license, but most of that will get swallowed up by my migratory waterfowl hunting license. No complaints there. I know that money goes to conserving waterfowl habitat.

Plus, I get a beautiful stamp of the state waterfowl print to put in my album. I’ve been collecting those things for years. What’s that you say? There is no more actual stamp? It’s just the words “migratory waterfowl permit” printed on my license? Hmmm.

Next I need to pick up some shells. Better double check to see if I need something special. Ooh, good thing I looked. The law book says: “The use or possession of ammunition loaded with other than nontoxic shot while hunting wild ducks, geese, brant, rails, or coots is prohibited.” Is that as opposed to hunting tame ducks, geese, brant, rails or coots?

Just what exactly is this nontoxic shot anyway? The website ( says: “Nontoxic shot means any shot type that does not cause sickness and death when ingested by these birds and is approved for use by the director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Steel, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron (2 types), tungsten-matrix, tungsten-bronze (2 types), tungsten-polymer, tungsten-tin-bismuth, tungsten-tin-iron-nickel, and tungsten nickel-iron (HEVI) shot have been approved nontoxic by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Sheesh! I didn’t realize I needed a PhD in metallurgy to figure out what shot is legal for duck hunting. Maybe the clerk at Walmart can help with that.

Okay, now I’m settled in. I have but to wait for the first ducks to cup their wings over my decoys and glide gracefully in. When they’re momentarily suspended over my faux blocks, pumping their wings, furiously fighting for a few feet of altitude, I’ll rise, aim and fire.

Before that happens though, I’d better take a quick look at the bag limits. Egad! What have we here? Scanning down the list, I see something called “regular ducks.” That sounds like a good place to start. It says here, regular ducks includes “black ducks, scaup, mergansers, pintails and American coots.”

So what does that make mallards, teal and wood ducks, to name just a few of the more commonly encountered species? Irregular? I don’t see a category for that.

The daily limit of regular ducks (see above) is six ducks. Sounds simple enough. “But wait,” I can hear the voice of an infomercial guy saying, “there’s more!” Of those six, no more than four of any one species. Okay, seems clear enough.

Then there’s possession limit, the precise definition of which is as muddy as the waters of Merrymeeting Bay on an outgoing tide.

If I hunt for two days, limit out each day, prepare all 12 “regular” ducks for consumption, then put them in the freezer, can I then hunt a third day without fear of being in violation? Ask six wardens and I’ll bet you get six different answers. I have, and I did.

“A” says there is a “closed season for harlequin ducks and Barrow’s goldeneye.” I heard those harlequins were in trouble; so no problem there. But which one is Barrow’s goldeneye? Or do they mean all the Barrow’s goldeneyes? But wait

“B” says, daily limit, one; possession limit, two for black ducks, canvasbacks, mottled ducks, and fulvous whistling ducks.

All of a sudden canvasbacks, mottled ducks and fulvous whistling ducks are “regular” ducks?

You can’t fool me, Mister Man. I’ve lived here 22 years and never seen any in Maine. Nor have I ever seen a mottled duck or a fulvous whistling duck outside of the state of Florida. I can assure you the occurrence of any of the three would be considered quite irregular in Maine. But wait

“C” says, daily limit, two; possession limit, four for hen mallard, northern pintail, scaup and redhead ducks. Now, all of a sudden mallards, pintails and redheads are regular?

Ducks are winging overhead, strafing my spread and settling into the decoys, but I’m in mortal fear of making a mistake, possibly shooting an irregular duck, or Mr. Barrow’s stray goldeneye.

This is far too complicated. Maybe I should have just gone goose hunting. Let’s see, it says here there is a special season for resident Canada geese.

Is that residents of Canada or Maine? And how do I tell? Sure is confusing.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

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