Exploration is Always Good; Here's How to Do it Correctly
At some point this season, your hotspots might falter, and you’ll be left scratching your head. Sure, you could grind out a few hunts until conditions improve, but you’re probably better off exploring new water.
Here’s how to make that sometimes daunting process a bit easier.
The toughest step when hunting new water is the first step out the door. You must be willing to take a risk and see what’s out there. Often, hunters hesitate to do that, thinking those journeys are wastes of time or preferring to spend their time hunting instead of exploring. That’s the wrong attitude. Curiosity and a can-do mindset often lead to the discovery of new options. Hoping against hope that your burned-out go-to spot will suddenly start producing is a recipe for disappointment.
Identify spots you’d like to explore well before the season. Scour aerial photos for hard-to-access potholes, sloughs, lakes, backwaters and timber holes. Then, investigate the best way to access these areas, and look into pertinent details, such as current, water depth, shoreline vegetation, special regulations and even potential set-up spots. You’ll still need to survey the area in person, but advance knowledge always helps.
Also, keep an ear open for scuttlebutt about new areas. Often, barstool boasting or online bravado is misleading or downright false. Instead, listen for tidbits about someone jumping flocks of ducks while fishing or hearing a wad of geese fly over their house. Even a tiny tip might help.
Waders on the Ground
Ideally, you’ll use the off-season to snoop around potential new spots. However, good intentions don’t always prevail, and you sometimes have to explore new areas when the game is on. Sacrifice a day or two of hunting to focus on scouting. Or, if you’d prefer to hunt while you scout — as I do — grab your gun, but remember to take things slow.
Often, it’s best to take your initial outing during an afternoon, especially if a water has navigation hazards — think stumps — or you’re unsure about hunting pressure there. During daylight, you can easily follow navigation prompts, avoid potentially dangerous areas and get a good idea about the blinds and boat traffic in an area. Unless a hotspot jumps out at you, consider setting up where you can observe much of the area. You probably won’t be on the X, but you might identify the best spots when birds fly that evening. Along the way, make mental notes, lock in waypoints, observe property boundaries and get a solid feel for the property.
After your first outing at a new spot, assess the area’s potential. Piles of empty hulls and shorelines littered with blinds confirm that you probably want to look elsewhere. However, abundant waterfowl food and promising setups signal that the spot might be worth another shot.
Above all, don’t get discouraged if your first guess is a whiff. New spots won’t jump into your lap. You must work to find them, and you’ll likely fail more than you strike gold. However, you will gain knowledge and be farther along in your search than if you had stuck with familiar ground.
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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.