Dedicated hunter, Garrett Whitson, will be gearing up for duck season this fall. He enjoys other wildlife such as fishing and hunting deer, but hunting waterfowl is his primary passion.
Born in Winter Springs, Fla. to Fred and Tina Whitson, Garrett was “all boy” enjoying everything from playing cars and trucks, to riding motorcycles.
“I got my first dirt bike when I was in the 5th grade. I grew up around them because my dad was really into that – I liked going fast,” Garrett says.
Not playing an athletic sport, Garrett liked nature, wildlife and adventure. His father introduced him to hunting before he was in middle school.
“Chattanooga was a good hunting environment. My dad went a few times when we were in Florida and I would go with him, but once we moved to Chattanooga, we realized there was more wildlife and more land for hunting. It also is about getting to spend time with him,” Garrett admits.
He still enjoys motor cross when he is not hunting wildlife, but he never got into the racing aspect. “It’s all about fun for me,” Garrett says.
During his freshman year, Garrett suffered a bad injury. “I was riding at the Georgia race track in Tunnel Hill and Dad asked if I was ready to go. I said, ‘Yeah, I am going to just go around one more time’ and… that one more time, I hit a jump and I came up short on the landing,” Garrett remembers. “I landed on the face of the jump and it threw me over the handlebars.”
Garrett had broken his collarbone in two places and torn muscles and ligaments in his shoulder.
The injury didn’t keep Garrett from shooting a rifle or pulling back a bow. “My dad is an avid hunter and I love it too. I took my first deer was when I was in the 8th grade using my dad’s Winchester 243. I got an eight-pointer,” Garrett says.
“While it’s happening, you are shaking – it’s not that you are scared, but the adrenaline is going and your heart is pumping. You are thinking, ‘Am I going to hit it or miss?’ Then after you shoot - ‘Did I hit it?’ At that point, you are really full of adrenaline. Once you shoot, you are just so happy - my dad and I celebrated. He thought I had shot a doe, but after we trailed it - he saw that it was an eight pointer,” Garrett smiles.
While hunting for sport, Garrett says it is for sustainability as well. “We believe you should eat everything you kill and nothing gets wasted. We honestly save a lot of money – you can get a lot of meat off of deer,” Garrett insists.
“When we first moved here, we went deer hunting a lot. My uncle is a big duck hunter and we started going with him – I got hooked on that!” Garrett claims.
“During the beginning of the season we’ll go duck hunting around here - sometimes Chickamauga. As the season goes on, we’ll go to Alabama and sometimes we’ll take a few trips to Arkansas on guided hunts,” Garrett says. “This year, I got on a lease in Missouri. It’s a farmer’s land and he leases it out yearly for duck hunters. He floods his rice field. I got it this year with 10 other guys, so we’ll see how that turns out.”
With public land in short supply, hunting leases are becoming more common every year. A hunting lease is an agreement between a private landowner and a hunter, which specifies the terms permitting the sportsman to come onto the property and hunt.
For duck hunting, Garrett says you can be anywhere on the lake but you can’t be next to campgrounds or parks. “You have to know the boundaries. If you think you have a spot picked out, do your research and make sure it is legal to hunt there. I believe you have to be 100 yards away from a marina or campground. There are a lot of regulations that you just read and follow - it is pretty self-explanatory,” Garrett maintains.
“I primarily duck hunt and that is what I enjoy, but the seasons overlap so we have other places we go. There is a spot in Georgia that we go every year. It is ‘bow hunting only’ so we deer hunt and we duck hunt for the rest of the season,” Garrett says.
Bow hunting came natural for Garrett. He never took archery, but he had used a bow and arrow since he was a kid.
“In Florida we lived on four acres and I was constantly outside doing things. Dad bought me a bow and a sling shot. I was constantly shooting something,” Garrett laughs.
“I grew up shooting bow. Once I was big enough to pull back enough poundage to take an animal, then I started using it in hunting. I shot my first deer by bow in that place in Georgia. It was a spike - a young male. It was getting dark and I thought it was a doe. I shot him and when I got down I felt a little bad about it, but at the same time I was so excited,” Garrett says.
He doesn’t recall any mishaps during hunting trips other than accidentally dropping his pack after climbing all the way up in a tree stand.
When he goes duck hunting, Garrett heads out about 4:30 in the morning. “You go early to get set up - they will be roosting from the previous night,” Garrett says.
“You have to adjust and be prepared. If you see a bunch of duck out in the water, you go out on a boat and hunt them in the water. If they are up on land, you set up on land and hide the boat on the other side of the island. There are different types of scenarios to deal with - like flooded timber and stuff like that,” he maintains.
“September is the season for early wood duck, teal and early goose. That lasts a couple of weeks, then closes back down and big ducks like mallards and American black duck will open back up in November. You can pretty much hunt any species in November,” he says.
Garrett has mounted a few of his kills such as a duck, the eight-pointed deer and the spike he got with a bow. “The most colorful duck I have shot would probably be a drake merganser.”
Garrett enjoys cooking and coming up with new recipes for his game. “Mallard is the best tasting. You can cook them all kinds of ways. I try to go out on a limb and try new stuff. The best thing I like to cook is duck poppers using the breast, with cream cheese and you wrap it in bacon and grill it or you can fry it,” Garrett says.
He continues to learn what makes for good eating and what does not. “Once, I shot a ring-neck. It is kind of like a diver duck - they eat off the bottom. I tried to grill it and it didn’t taste good at all!” Garrett grimaces.
“The best thing about hunting is when you are successful. All the hours spent scouting, waiting and everything you do in trial and error pay off with the animal,” Garrett says. “My favorite hunting is duck hunting, mainly because you can socialize with your friends while you’re not working the birds (calling them in).”
Working at Sportsman Warehouse, Garrett has the perfect job to support his hunting hobby. He attended UTC to get his core classes out of the way and is taking a break until he decides what exactly it is that he would like to do for a career.
“I would like to travel further out when we hunt - in some place known for the best hunting. My Dad and I have never been camping and hunting at the same time and that is something I would like to do. I would like to go camping out west and hunt elk with a bow. That’s the ultimate goal,” he upholds.
Being in the woods and watching wildlife is the main thing that draws Garrett to hunting. “I love being in the woods. I do more watching then I do shooting. When you are out there, you are away from reality and it’s relaxing - yet I love the adrenaline rush you get when you’re fixing to take the animal,” Garrett says.
“You make memories that will last a lifetime - I love sharing those times with my dad.”