Duck Hunting -Try Downsizing And Minimizing…
Few species of wildlife are harder to fool into shotgun range than mallards. Once these birds have seen more than a month of hunting pressure, their entire attitude changes. At times it seems like the typical mallard in November can spot a decoy at half a mile away. The same birds seemingly think that every sound a duck call makes spells out the word D-A-N-G-E-R.
Closing the gap on pressured late season birds is a game where less really is more. Downsizing and minimizing just about everything associated with duck hunting is a great strategy for fooling hunt wise birds and also for lightening the load on season weary hunters.
Early in the hunting season just about any battle-tattered decoy will attract birds into gun range. As the season progresses, it takes the finest quality decoys and decoying tricks to consistently fool ducks.
Trick number one is to avoid using new and shiny decoys. A good way to deaden the shine of newly painted decoys is to brush them with a little mud and water mixture, then give them a light rinsing. This simple step makes it tougher for birds to spot your blocks as glistening fakes.
Trick number two involves blocking ultra violet reflections. All birds see ultra violet light which makes the typical painted plastic decoy appear to have an unnatural glow. You can paint your decoys with UV treated paints that do not reflect an ultra violet glow or spray your decoys with an after market treatment like Fool-a-Bird which accomplishes the same thing.
Trick number three allows decoys to enjoy more natural movement. Most decoys come with a keel that helps the decoy remain upright in rough water. In calm conditions these decoys look as lifeless as the plastic fakes they are.
An easy way to gain more swimming movement from decoys is to rig them without the keel. Many popular brands of decoys like Greenhead Gear, Final Approach and Higdon come with removable keels. In calm water a few decoys rigged without the keel will add much more movement to a typical decoy spread. Simply put a screw eye into the bottom of the decoy secured with a little epoxy glue to insure the decoy doesn’t leak and the screw eye stays in place. Minus the keel these blocks will swim and slide all over the place with the slightest breeze. Of course in rough water you’ll have to replace the keels or they will tip over in a big wind.
Other decoys types don’t feature keels and are designed to be used in protected waters or on calm days. Some of these are foam and others inflatable. Both work well at adding motion to an otherwise stale looking spread when the weather is calm.
Trick number four involves using fewer decoys. The typical hunter starts out the season using three or four dozen decoys for duck hunting. In most cases, a smaller number of deeks will out draw larger spreads later in the season. Until you’ve tried it, it’s amazing how just 12-18 decoys can outproduce 24-48 blocks when hunting pressured birds.
Birds that have been shot at learn quickly to avoid blinds and other obvious man-made structures. Part of the art of hiding from birds is not so much blending into the background as it is creating a blind that blocks literally 100% of unnatural movement as birds approach. Nine times out of 10 when ducks don’t finish it boils down to them seeing something unnatural. That unnatural element is usually movement where there shouldn’t be any. The flash of light off a gun barrel, a head turning suddenly or a white face looking skyward is all it takes to spook birds that have been shot at before.
Make sure your duck blind, be it on land or water, is designed to provide complete concealment from the watchful eyes of incoming birds. Pay particular attention to having overhead cover. Mallards and other puddle ducks are well known for circling and circling while surveying a landing site. Don’t make the mistake of providing these birds any reason to be suspicious.
Incorporate New Hunting Methods
The more ducks get shot at, the more they become impossible to fool with traditional hunting tactics. Hunting worn out places with worn out tactics is going to deliver sketchy results at best.
Consider incorporating some new tactics like hunting open water with the help of layout blinds or low profile boats grassed up to hide the hunter completely.
These boats/blinds are ideal for hunting one or two gunners in skinny cover or no cover at all. So long as the hunter remains absolutely motionless while birds are working, layouts in open water are deadly on late season birds.
Limit The Size Of Your Party
Keep your hunting party small and you’ll kill more ducks. It’s tough enough to hide two gunners. Adding a third or fourth gun to the party just about guarantees no one will enjoy a good hunt.
Sticking with smaller blinds, boats and hunting groups is the best possible strategy for targeting pressured birds.
Call Less, Call Softer
Owning a duck call isn’t a license to blow it non-stop. The more ducks see hunting pressure, the more important it becomes to call sparingly and with natural sounding calls the birds are used to hearing. Cutting down not only the amount of calling, but also the volume is a step in the right direction. Many duck calls today are made of plastic or acrylic and are designed to be exceptionally loud. A softer sounding wooden call produces a more natural sound and works better on late season birds.
As hunting pressure increases birds are forced to seek out undisturbed areas to feed, drink and roost. Scouting is the only practical way to stay on top of day to day duck movements.
For every day spent hunting, plan to spend at least one or two days scouting to confirm the movements and whereabouts of birds. Cutting corners with scouting will only lead to poor hunts and fewer shooting opportunities.
Come Prepared To Shoot Farther
A final tip for late season duck hunting is to come prepared to shoot farther. The average shot taken at a duck in October is 25 yards. Come November that distance has stretched out to 35 yards or more. Practice shooting clays at 35-45 yards and consider using heavy hitting tungsten loads that have the necessary punch at longer ranges to kill ducks cleanly.
Leave your improved cylinder choke at home and tight up to a modified choke that puts more pellets on target at longer ranges. Again, a little practice on the clays course will help determine how much daylight is required between the barrel and the target to hit consistently. For hunters who haven’t practiced this drill, it’s amazing how much lead is required to hit a crossing clay at 40 yards.
Summing It Up
Late season duck hunting has its own special magic. A biting wind, some snow flurries in the air and ducks that are fully dressed in their Sunday best add up to the stuff duck hunters dream of. Come prepared with a hunting attitude that has been adjusted for late season and chances are those memories are going to be pleasant ones. Hunt with the same worn out tactics that worked on opening day and…well, there is always Sunday afternoon football.