When the clock is winding down, that just means the game isn’t over yet
Duck season has dwindled down to the final days, and birds have seen every spread and heard every call in your arsenal. That doesn’t mean you can’t fill straps. You’ll just have to tweak your approach and hunt a bit smarter.
Night-feeding geese and puddle ducks pose a challenge. The best fix is to identify major roosts and set up nearby, whether in a field or smaller water. Waterfowl usually don’t sit still on the roost all day or night. At times, they get restless and fly, sometimes just making a loop around the roost but often exploring a bit before returning to safe havens. If you’re set up in good position at a nearby field or water, you can usually attract a few curious birds within range. Don’t set up so close to the roost that your shots might scare roosted birds. Conversely, don’t set up too far away that birds can’t see your setup when they stretch their wings.
Take Little Slices
Realtree.com contributor James Buice scouts intensely for overlooked spots late in the season.
“(Look for) small areas that are out of the way — unknown areas not on game-land maps, like water authority property, Corps of Engineers land, and local city- or state-owned tracts,” he says. “These maps are available by calling county clerks, state land management offices and others. Google Earth will be your friend in finding the right habitat, but (your) eyes will tell you if it’s being hunted heavily and if the birds are there. These can be great late-season areas as well. People hunt them out and assume they are blown, but on a cold front, new birds will sometimes show up, and you’ll have them all to yourself.”
Look Out in Front
Justin Martin, general manager of Duck Commander, said weather often plays a big role in late-season success. However, that doesn’t mean the classic north-wind scenario many hunters associate with migrations.
“The term fresh mallards here (in Louisiana) generally refers to the day prior to and immediately following the front that stirs birds up,” he says. “From what we have experienced, it seems ducks like to buck the wind. We see major flights out of the north when the south wind kicks up just prior to the front, and the next day we see birds coming out of the south bucking the north wind. As long as the wind kicks up, the birds seem to stay very responsive. When the winds die, the birds become very difficult to fool.
“If the front is bad enough, they tend to hit open fields first and carb-load for the bad weather. After it has gone through, they tend to seek out timber for shelter and loafing.”
Delay the Motion
J.D. Driskill, owner of Dirty Rice Outfitters in Gobler, Missouri, says motion is critical for late-season ducks in timber. But he takes a crafty approach, using spinners that operate intermittently.
“I don’t like to run a constant spinner,” he says. “I like to go with a delayed spinner that kicks off and then kicks back on. That might look to ducks like different birds. Timers are a little bit better.”
If hunters use continuously spinning decoys in timber, Driskill says, they should place them in areas where they’re hidden somewhat by trees, which will break up the constant motion and appear more realistic to wary ducks.
Get Them on the Way Back
Eric Rinehart, of North Delta Outfitters in southeastern Missouri, says late-season hunters should take advantage of thaws, which often prompt ducks to filter back to previously frozen areas.
“When it warms up after it’s been single digits or in the teens, the amount of ducks that come back is incredible,” Rinehart says. “The ducks in Arkansas push right back up here. It’s the very edge of the delta, and after they get here, it’s a pretty long haul to get to the next area (north) with habitat. When they come back north during the season, they don’t go much farther than here, so when it warms up, it gets to be the best hunting. They’re hungry and want to eat, and they’re very vulnerable.”
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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.