Try these tricks to make the late diving-duck shift great
Many duck hunting stories begin with some variation of, “We arose before dawn and … .”
Nothing wrong with that. But some folks work first shift or have to drop their children off at day care before hitting the water. What if (gasp) they can’t hunt until afternoon? That can be especially worrisome when chasing big-water diving ducks, as major feeding flights might be finished, leaving ducks lounging in inaccessible open water.
Never fear. You can still find success with cans, redheads, bluebills and their buddies after the noon whistle. Here are four great setups to try during the late shift this season.
Deer hunters often advocate setting a centrally located observation stand when they first hunt a property. This setup might not be a finely tuned kill spot, but it offers good visibility of a large area and lets the hunter observe deer movements and identify a solid subsequent stand site.
The same holds true with big-water ducks. If you’re going in relatively blind, consider setting up — whether in open water or on a point or island — where you can watch large areas of the lake or river and note where ducks trade, feed, loaf and roost. You’ll still shoot a few birds, too, but the main point of such a setup is identifying trends and hotspots. Then, you can throw out decoys at the X the next afternoon.
Point (or Island) Comfort
Afternoon diver shooting isn’t often as fast and furious as morning action. So, it’s important to find a setup where you can settle in and wait comfortably and patiently for the limited opportunities you might receive.
Publicly accessible points, islands or sandbars on large flowages or major river systems are perfect for these hunts. Position your boat blind next to cover, or ditch the boat and construct a cozy hide with driftwood and other natural materials. Then, sit back and vow to make the most of any flocks that decoy. Patience usually equates to ducks.
Where the Vane Points
Sometimes, it pays to be a prognosticator. Watch weather forecasts, and note any approaching fronts or wind shifts that might prompt afternoon duck movement. Then, set up before the weather change to take advantage.
For example, years ago, the weatherman forecast a hellacious northeast wind one November afternoon. I arrived at my shoreline blind to find calm seas and zero duck action. Still, I threw out four dozen decoys and resolved to see what happened. When the wind switched and picked up, bluebills flew like mad, and a buddy and I enjoyed the shoot of a lifetime.
You’ll find similar opportunities. Don’t set up for the current conditions. Anticipate the weather change, and be in position when it does. Barometer plunging? Get out there. Skies clearing and temperature dropping? Ditto. Wind picking up? Find a sheltered setup, and bring plenty of shells.
Hail the Final Hour
Pressured divers might spend all day at inaccessible spots or refuges, especially when it’s warm or calm, or when they have plenty of food at those spots. However, they might leave those areas during late afternoon to roost near shorelines or in larger areas of open water. Find out where they sleep, and set up during afternoons to intercept them.
That does not mean you should toss out 100 decoys at the roost spot and fire away. That will work once, and then the surviving ducks will find somewhere else to spend the night. Rather, identify flight paths and trading routes ducks use to approach the roost, and then hunt near those — close enough to the roost so ducks are still funneling in but far enough so you don’t spook up the raft when you shoot.
These hunts often involve several hours of boredom followed by an hour of furious action, right to the closing bell. But in many cases, they can be better than morning hunts, as stale, pressured birds often leave roost areas right before first light and don’t return until the golden hour.
Diver nuts love to greet the wind and spray at dawn, hoping for those early-morning glimpses of cupped silhouettes or streaking targets overhead. But afternoons aren’t so bad. Hey, it’s usually warmer, and you can see ducks relatively easily, too. And by using these nifty setups, you can make the p.m. shift just as memorable as many morning hunts.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.