Mid-season duck hunt proves unconventional

Nov. 16, 2013 @ 08:44 PM

It was our first time hunting the oxbow beaver pond along the Yadkin. Our hunting style wasn’t conventional duck hunting, but I had high hopes for the day. We’d located a beaver pond close to the river, and on a previous scouting trip, I saw more ducks than I’d seen anywhere in the Piedmont. I’d visited the place in the middle of the day just before the middle season, and as we approached the pond, the sound of ducks and geese was almost deafening.

The problem was, this spot wasn’t easily approachable, and quite a distance off the property owner’s driveway and roads. The only access I could figure was to hump our decoys in through over a half mile of woods, and then the best place to hunt was several hundred yards across the pond, and inaccessible by four wheeler. We decided to sled a canoe in behind the four wheeler, and use the canoe in the water to shuttle the decoys to our hunting spot.
I’m sure we made a strange sight, driving the Honda Four Trax through the woods towing a canoe loaded with portable blinds, duck and goose decoys, and my old Lab, Ernie, riding shotgun in the canoe. We may have been unconventional, but our plan worked. We came in early and pushed the birds off the pond. We set up our decoys and waited for them to return. I still remember the count that day. We got 14 ducks and five Canadas, with three hunters shooting. It was, and still is, the best day of duck hunting I’ve ever done. We resolved to hunt the place no more than a few times a season, and it and our unconventional system, continued to produce for years.
Sometimes, unconventional means produce ducks simply because no one else tries them, but there are some standard rules of duck hunting that will always improve your results. Most of my hunting has been from a boat blind on public water, and I’ve had some very good hunts right here around home.
Scout before the hunt. Just because there were ducks in a place last year, doesn’t mean they’ll be there this year. Almost all successful duck hunts are pre-scouted. When you scout, try to see what happens at the time you’ll be hunting. When we hunted High Rock, and we had some good hunts there, we hit the water before hawking hours and were in place in the boat blind just like we were going to hunt. We watched where the ducks were flying, and chose our spot based on their patterns at the time when we’d hunt. The idea is to be where the ducks want to be, and that’s not always where they spend the night. If they spend their day where they’re feeding, you can run them out, set up your spread, and wait for them to come back. Most times, this works.
Get there in plenty of time. You don’t want to be rushed in setting up your decoy spread. If you hunt ducks, you’ll have to get up at an ungodly hour anyway, so why cut it close? If you hunt public water from a boat blind, you need to get there soon enough to beat anyone who has eyes on the same place. Get to your spot, set up your spread, and take a little time to relax. When we hunted from a boat blind, I always brought a little stove and frying pan. I cooked up sausage and eggs and poured coffee from the thermos. With a good enough breakfast, even a hunt without firing a shot is satisfying.
Set up a decoy spread that matches the location. If you’re hunting a small hole and you fill it with eight dozen decoys, it might look suspicious to ducks a week or two into the season. Large decoy spreads work great in open water where ducks raft up, but a small beaver pond full of decoys rarely happens in nature. For small holes, a dozen decoys might work better than two dozen.
Hunt with your back to the wind. Ducks almost always come into decoys flying into the wind for the same reason planes land and take off into the wind. It makes landing easier because they can fly slower. With your back to the wind, you’ll get better shots and be less likely to be surprised by ducks dropping in from behind your back.
Stay out of the sun. If you’ve ever flown close to the ground where there were long shadows, you probably noticed it was hard to make out details in the shadows. If your decoys are in the sun and you’re in the shade, ducks aren’t as likely to spot you. It’s also easier to shoot when you’re in the shade because there’s no glare. Set up once with the rising sun in your eyes and you’ll know what I mean.
Keep your head down. When ducks are over your spread, stay still and keep your head down. A human face sticks out like a sore thumb when surrounded by natural marsh colors. Wear a camo hat and cover as much of your face as possible. Make sure nothing shines, and don’t leave bright colored shells laying around your blind.
Make the water move. Ducks rarely sit perfectly still. Generally they’re moving around and stirring up the water. Of course, there are commercial decoy systems that move the water, but the best I’ve ever used is simple and you can make it yourself. I tie a section of shock cord to a stake on one end and a small rope on the other. I attach two or three decoys to the rope spaced a few feet apart and bring the rope to my blind. Pulling on the rope stretches the shock cord and causes the decoys to swim back and forth. It’s realistic looking and only costs a few dollars to make.
None of these tips will guarantee you a great or even barely successful trip, but they will increase your odds of bringing home some ducks.
For seasons and bag limits here in North Carolina: http://www.ncwildlife.org/News/NewsArticle/tabid/416/IndexID/9334/Default.aspx
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com