Every season waterfowlers find themselves spending countless hours in the blind with no birds to stand testament to their dedication. Sometimes, this may be attributed to poor bird movement or just plain old bad hunting conditions. However, if this is not the case, then there is an underlying message: you did not execute the hunt properly. To adequately place oneself in a position to shoot ducks, the execution goes far beyond the day of. In fact, the process of creating a scenario for a productive duck season takes as much as 365 days a year. To develop yourself as a duck hunter, and generate the greatest possible opportunity for a triumphant year in the blind, there is a basic guideline that I call The Four P’s To A Successful Duck Season.
The most important thing any duck hunter can do after the season ends is prepare for the next one. The quicker you begin the prepare, the less stress you will face in the weeks before season.
Do a gear check. Duck hunting can be brutal on every item that finds its way on or with you in the field. When season goes out, it is essential to evaluate all your gear to decipher which items are competent to get the job done next season.
Buy the right gear for the job. The importance of having the right clothing and gear when it comes to spending three months out of the year duck hunting cannot be neglected. Form a hole in your waders last season that leaked every hunt thereafter? Buy new sturdy waders. The gloves you got for last season did nothing to keep your hands warm? Buy new gloves. Your head and ears got cold all last season because you wore no headwear? Buy an insulated hat. Replacing and buying what you need after a gear evaluation is vital when preparing for season.
Do not cut corners when buying the right tools for duck hunting. This point cannot be stressed enough. If you intend to put out the money for new decoys or duck calls, do not go cheap for the sake of saving money. Sure, sometimes there are quality calls and decoys on the market for cheap, but more often than not with reduced price comes reduced quality. Take time to research and find the most realistic decoys on the market. The more realistic a decoy is, the less room for error there is when you have a pintail drake tightly cupped into your decoys. The quality of the duck call also must not be overlooked. Every duck hunter has their preference on volume, rasp, and tone in a call. Buy one that will suit your own preferences and draw the ducks in.
Scout. In the offseason, you are left plenty of time to get situated with potential duck zones. Spend time in the boat or canoe locating spots that could provide good duck habitat. Look for areas of shallow feeding water. Look for areas with plenty of brush or grass to hide in. One of the most common mistakes in offseason scouting is finding one spot and sticking to it. Find multiple spots that could be hunted in various conditions. This means find spots for every wind direction and tide. Having multiple options will help to prevent hunting a location when the tide or wind is counter productive to your setup.
Practice duck calling. When you buy your duck call, take it out of the box, and blow in it till duck season. Practicing calling may be one of the most neglected aspects of waterfowl hunting preparation. Hang your call lanyard over the rear view mirror of your car, and practice every time you drive. One of the most common mistakes when trying to perfect the sound of the duck is mimicking the sound of other duck callers. The most effective method to accurately get the sound of a duck out of your duck call is to listen to real ducks, and mimic that sound. Practice at different tones and volumes. Practice the different calls that ducks make in the wild such as hail, feed, and single quack.
Practice shooting. When you successfully call a duck into shotgun range, you must now make the shot. Practicing shooting at the range is just as important to hunting successfully as anything else. Every opening day, when waterfowlers are missing wide open shots on beautiful ducks, they love to use the phrase “I’m rusty.” Well, to avoid becoming “rusty” when it comes to shooting, practice your shot on some clay pigeons. Practice various shot angles coming from all directions to mimic real hunting scenarios. One great way to practice is to have the clay pigeon thrown from behind the shooter, not knowing where the target will be and requiring fast reaction time.
I wrote heavily about the effects persistence can have on duck hunting in my post Holding Out For One More Minute: Fighting Discomfort While Hunting. As cliche as it sounds, being persistent and not giving up are routes of equal effectiveness to a quality duck season.
Do not be an early season warrior. It never fails. Every opening week of duck season the boat ramp is packed and you have to wait in line just to launch a boat. A month later, the boat ramp is a dead zone on a Saturday morning. These people are what I like to call the early season warriors. These men and women like the idea of duck hunting, but not enough to stick it out a whole season. These people lack persistence, and therefore do not put themselves in a position to create memories and execute successful hunts in the duck blind.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. There are times throughout the duck season when no matter what the conditions, no matter what duck call you blow, and no matter what decoys you throw out, ducks just do not want to commit. These lulls in the duck season can beat the most confident of waterfowlers to their knees. However, the successful ones are those who remain persistent. Change up decoy spreads, change up calls, and switch locations until something works. Eventually, there will be a break in the lull and you will be able to efficiently work ducks again.
Fool the fowl with realism. The ability to be persuasive is directly correlated to the amount of successful hunts you will face in the duck blind. Without persuasion, it will be near impossible to harvest a duck. In order to pull birds into shotgun range, a certain degree of manipulation and trickery is imperative, with realism acting as your framework.
Be where the ducks want to be. The first step in hunting ducks is to be where the ducks prefer. This means hunting a spot where there is something that draws the ducks there consistently. These spots can be feeding or roosting spots, but no matter the scenario, having the favor of a natural attractant in your spread goes a long way in hunting prosperity. Drawing in ducks to where they already want to be is a lot easier than convincing ducks to change their flight pattern that is already destined to another area.
Decoy efficiently. You can have a successful hunt with decoys and no call. But if you go out there with a call and no decoys, good luck to you. Decoys may be the most powerful weapon in any duck hunter’s arsenal for fooling ducks. In preparation for season, you surely bought the most realistic ones on the market. Now, what do you do with these decoys? Everybody has their own opinions on effective decoying strategies, and to describe my own preference would take a whole article. However, you cannot go wrong when you study ducks and act accordingly. Study flocks of ducks sitting on the water and assemble decoys in a similar fashion. Creating a realistic scenario is vital. Do not put decoys in unnatural positions! Motion decoys are always a good accomadation when fabricating a realistic decoy spread.
Sound like a duck and make real duck noises. One of the worst duck hunting offenses of all time is blowing into a duck call when you do not know how to use it. By blowing into a duck call and not sounding like a duck, you are practically begging for a flare. Never try to produce a sound out of a duck call that you have never heard a real duck make. Taking the time to practice and knowing which calls to make and when is key. There are times to be aggressive, and there are times to be soft in your calling. On different days ducks respond to calls differently. Spending time in the field is the only way to adequately learn how to work ducks with a duck call. Rule of thumb- Do not call when ducks are coming into your spread.