Submitted by: Michael Pendley
We’ve all been there. The scouting trip from the previous evening had pinpointed that perfect public land spot. The birds had poured in, the cover was thick enough to hide in and the wind was forecast to be perfect. Early the next morning you make the trek back to the spot, hopes high and spirits soaring with the promise of the high paced shooting to come. Then you see it, the tiny pinpoint beam of headlights in the distance that lets you know someone else had marked the spot as well. Or even worse, you get there and place your decoys, build your makeshift blind and hunker down to wait for shooting light only to watch someone come in and set up on top of you, ruining both your chances for a good hunt.
Photo courtesy of B. Pendley
Or maybe you have had the spot mostly to yourself for a while now. Several good hunts have resulted and it has been a pretty spectacular season so far. But lately the ducks are shy, flaring farther and farther out and refusing to work. No amount of added decoys or pleading calls can coax the fowl into shooting range. It is clearly time to make a change.
Photo courtesy of B. Pendley
It’s time to make a move. Hang up the decoy bags and break out the maps. Downsizing the water you hunt and the equipment you use can be just the ticket this time of year. Follow these simple steps to get back on the ducks.
Internet scouting can work: No, I am not talking about scanning the forums for grip and grin photos of successful hunts then paylaking their spots. Instead, pull up your hunting area on Google Earth or Wikimapia.org. Can’t get good images of your spot? Pick up a good old fashioned topo map of the area. Think back to previous hunts and scouting trips in the area. What flight path did most of the birds use? Check that area for smaller ponds and creeks away from the road. Keep an eye out for hardwood timber areas where beavers might have dammed a creek and flooded a section. Moving water can be particularly productive in the late season when standing water has locked up with ice.
Hang up the decoy bags: When you find a hot spot on small water, a half dozen decoys is more than enough spread to attract attention. To make up for the small number of decoys, run at least two of the six rigged as a jerk string. Ducks can pick up on the movement from remarkable distances as they fly over. Since you don’t need a lot of decoys, make the ones you do use the most lifelike available. As the birds make their fly overs, they will have time to check out each and every deke, make sure they pass inspection.
Leave the waders at home: I like a good pair of hip boots for small water hunting. To get away from high pressured public areas often requires one heck of a hike. Chest waders will wear you down in hurry. Most small waters are wade-able with hip or even knee boots. If you do find a deeper spot, pack your chest waders in a backpack and put them on when you get to your destination.
And keep the calls in your pocket: Well, not really, but tone your calling WAY down. High pressured birds have been hit with more highballs, feed chuckles and pleading comebacks than a contest judge in Stuttgart. Once the birds start to work, stick mainly with quiet chuckles and quacks. Throw in a drake call or two or mix things up with gadwall, pintail or wood duck calls to give the birds something they haven’t heard. When the birds are in range, take the shot. Wary birds over small water are hard to land. They might not make that extra pass either. Don’t pass a shot when you have it, you might not get another chance.
Next season, when the birds get shy and the crowds get thick, put these small water, low pressure tactics to work. The shooting might not be as hot and heavy as an open water blind with fresh birds, but it beats the heck out of sitting all day without picking up your gun.