Follow these “rules of the road” to get birds to take a detour to your spread
In a perfect world, every waterfowler would be on the X daily, waiting for birds at a hot feed or midmorning loafing area. Then, afternoon scouting would reveal another hotspot for the next day.
That, of course, is fantasy. Despite our best scouting efforts, we’re not always on the X. In fact, many days, we’re not even sure where the X is. That’s when running traffic — setting up at general travel areas or between destinations — can really pay dividends. But although the concept seems simple, running traffic presents challenges. Try these tips for better traffic hunts.
Identify Flight Lines
For this blog, I’ll focus mostly on traffic hunts in dry fields. Many of the concepts also apply for water hunts.
Always seek the X while scouting, but note likely big-water roosts and flight paths. Those will provide the backbone for many traffic hunts. Often, the process is as simple as seeing ducks or geese fly off a large slough, river or lake at dawn and watching the direction they travel. However, note bird movements from fields to midday loafing waters and back again during evenings. And remember that wind and weather conditions will affect the timing and location of flights.
After you’ve identified general waterfowl travel paths between roosting, feeding and loafing areas, simply find spots where you can run traffic. Obviously, a harvested grain field between a roost and the X is ideal, as you can create the impression that birds are using a new area.
Before you get too excited about your decoy spread or calling strategy, remember the ultimate necessity of field hunting: concealment. And that can be tough in a harvested field that resembles the top of a pool table. Layout blinds help considerably, but they’re not foolproof.
Use any natural cover, including fence lines, rock piles, weedy ditches or even unharvested crops adjacent to the field. Remember, you’re not trying to sit atop the X but simply trying to present a scenario that might lure birds close.
In fields with sparse natural cover, gather straw, stalks, weeds or other vegetation that matches the field, and stack it liberally over and between your blinds. Often, it helps to bring a rake or weed wacker to obtain and gather materials. And when you think you have enough, gather and stack some more.
Attract Attention Visually
Next, craft your decoy spread. Bigger is typically better when running traffic in fields, as you need to attract attention from birds that have somewhere better to go. Typically, I like to use as many full-body goose decoys as possible. If I need more, I’ll augment the full-bodies with shells, socks and silhouettes. I don’t usually worry about duck decoys during field hunts, as ducks will decoy readily to goose blocks. However, in a pinch, you can even take keeled duck decoys and wedge them into the ground or between crop rows to boost numbers.
Motion will be critical. When targeting ducks, always run several spinners, though turn them off if geese start to work your spread. Flagging works well for geese and ducks, especially when trying to catch the eye of flocks on the horizon. Flag just enough to draw eyes, but don’t overdo it when birds get close. Shell-type decoys that move in the wind can also make your spread come alive.
Attract Attention Audibly
As with motion, sound can be critical to hail passing birds, especially geese. This is when loud, aggressive greeting or hail calls shine. Also, having several callers can really help create the illusion of a hot feed, especially when working large flocks or targeting ducks and geese.
Still, as with any calling situation, note how birds react, and tweak your approach as needed.
Don’t Be Fussy
Don’t be too choosy when calling the shot. Some days, traffic hunts result in feet-down, wings-back, in-your-face shots. Many other times, ducks and geese might do a fly-by or touch-and-go, not quite finishing. Generally, take the first quality shot birds offer. For example, if mallards swing downwind and circle over your setup at 35 yards, take them. It might be tempting to see if they work closer on their second swing, but they might keep flying.
That’s traffic hunting many days. Some days, the allure of the X is just too powerful, and birds pass by. Other times, however, a carefully executed approach might lure enough within range to create a memorable hunt.
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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.