Some Birds Drive You Nuts Yet Lure You Back Again and Again
OK, despite the hokey title of this blog, let’s admit that the list of ducks you don’t want to pursue is likely brief. Ducks, after all, are the No. 1 component required for a successful duck hunt (duh). Finding them — even tough ducks — puts you halfway to victory.
Still, ducks in some scenarios usually prove far more difficult than others. They’ll lure you in, but succumbing to that temptation brings a high risk of ending up like Charlie Brown trying for the umpteenth time to kick the football while a vengeful Lucy pulls it away.
So, in the spirit of fun and maybe some stinging memories, here’s a rundown of ducks you (probably) don’t want to hunt this season.
Your Buddy’s Ducks
We’ve all sat at work or through family commitments as blow-by-blow texts of an epic hunt light up our phone. Then, after a pause, a garish hero shot punctuates our humiliation, and our buddies end with something like, “Get out here as soon as you can!”
So we go the next day. And it sucks. Why? Because your idiot buddies shot the tar out of them at that spot and completely burned it out. Motoring or walking out with an empty strap, your shame will be complete.
You find birds and form a plan, but doubt remains. Everything must go perfectly for you to capitalize, and if something’s amiss, you’ll fail. These conditional birds will drive you mad. Maybe big flocks at a nearby refuge pull ducks away. Perhaps a flurry of boat traffic busts birds from the roost. Or maybe wind and weather conditions aren’t quite right, and ducks never finish. Whatever the reason, when things aren’t quite right, your hunt explodes. Yet you’ll probably come back, hoping again that things go your way.
Actually, I used to hunt road ducks all the time in the Dakotas. Buddies and I would glass birds from our trucks, gain access, hike in and stack them up. But many other people figured out that simple formula, and before long, road ducks became an evil temptation, attracting loads of hunting pressure and behaving like … well, like ducks that had endured loads of hunting pressure.
Bottom line: You’re almost always better off hunting birds not everyone can see. Still, like Charlie Brown’s football, road ducks continue to suck us in year after year.
These are just a variant of If-Only Ducks. If only all those mallards and black ducks would leave that channel by the park and fly past the area we can legally hunt. If only those flocks of geese would flush from that golf course and pass over our wheat field.
Never say never, of course, but waterfowl that find safety within municipal limits rarely put themselves in dangerous situations. They seem to know exactly where they’re safe and where some redneck might sling steel at them. But don’t worry. You can still glass them after you strike out on wild birds outside the city limits.
Here’s another iteration of If-Only Ducks. You locate a hot feed and gain permission … to hunt the field next door. Then, you watch flocks of honkers and mallards sail high overhead and parachute straight down into their sanctuary. Gleeful clucking and quacking haunt you as you pick up and sulk back to your truck.
This scenario might offer the most hope, though, as you can sometimes enjoy good traffic hunts by setting up downwind of hot feeds. Don’t skimp on the decoys, flagging and calling. Get the attention of passing flocks early, and give them a reason to check you out. Just don’t be surprised when many birds continue on to their refuge buffet.
You’ve found a great spot and placed a beautiful spread. Concealed and ready, you wait for shooting hours. And 15 minutes before light, some dude motors 75 yards downwind from your hole, tosses out six faded decoys and does his best nonstop rendition of Francis Scott Off-Key on his duck call.
Sure, ducks still want to work to your spot. But your new friend wails away at every passing flock. (In fairness, one got within 75 yards.) After 90 minutes of watching the horror show, you’ve had enough and leave.
Sound familiar? Meet me on public water for Wisconsin’s opening day. I’ll introduce you to this guy and his 10,000 clones.
First hunts at new spots don’t always go well. No matter, you tell yourself. You’ll just tweak your approach next time and cash in.
Unless, of course, you’re hunting pressured ducks (read: mallards and black ducks) that won’t revisit the area after being bumped, boogered and spooked by some clumsy clown. You might return to an empty slough or birds that vanish 15 minutes before light.
Bottom line: Make every effort to get things right the first time. Troubleshoot your hide, decoy spread and calling approach before hunting, and get there plenty early to let the area settle down before dawn. And if ducks oblige, make hay early. Next time typically never comes.
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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.