Hackathorn makes up for the lack of numbers by learning exactly where the birds are from one day to another.
"I spend a lot of time scouting. By the end of each day, I have a pretty good idea where the next day's hunting will be, as well as what we'll be hunting for," he said.
A typical day of guiding goes something like this: Hackathorn rises at 4 a.m., gets dressed and goes to the garage to take the decoy and boat batteries off their chargers. He meets his clients at 5 a.m., takes them to the chosen hunting spot, sets out decoys and makes all the final preparations for the day's hunt.
"All that has to be accomplished by one-half hour before sunrise," he said. "That's when legal shooting hours begin."
He and his clients hunt all morning. After they have lunch, Hackathorn goes back to work.
"I get the boat loaded back up and clean the birds," he said. "Then I take the equipment back to the garage, lay everything out to dry, and put the batteries back into their chargers. I'm usually done with that by about 4 p.m., so from then until dark I go scouting to see where the birds are."
After he arrives home, he lays out the next day's equipment, which varies from day to day depending on the nature of the birds he's scouted.
"If we have lots of [mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, teal, pintail or other] puddle ducks, we'll need the appropriate decoys and the appropriate kind of boat," Hackathorn explained. "If we have [scaup, redheads, goldeneyes, mergansers or other] diving ducks, we'll need different decoys and boats. If we're hunting geese in fields, we'll need blinds and appropriate decoys."
As much as he enjoys waterfowl hunting, Hackathorn acknowledges that working six-day weeks of 12 to 13 hours a day, and doing that for six consecutive weeks in the dead of winter, gets downright exhausting.
"Even though you're dressed for the conditions, you still get cold," he said. "Doing that day after day wears you down. I usually get sick sometime before the season ends."
The rigors of the job probably explain why waterfowl guides are so few and far between in West Virginia. Hackathorn said that as far as he knows, he's the only one - and the lack of competition works to his advantage.
"I don't have any shortage of clients, that's for sure," he said. "When you consider how expensive it is to equip yourself for waterfowl hunting, it's probably cheaper in the long run to pay $100 a day to hire a guide - who already has all that gear - to take you hunting two or three times a season. At least that's what my clients tell me."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.