Shortcuts can lead to trouble, so find birds the right way
We know the straight and narrow path to duck and goose hunting success: Scout hard, identify patterns, form game plans and put them into motion.
But now and then, we veer off the righteous road. Sure, we still scout, but maybe we cut corners or slip into easy traps.
Don’t fall victim this season. Avoid these six scouting temptations and blunders.
Yeah, you drove around for an hour, and sure, you saw some birds. But did you really discover anything that would put you on the X the next morning?
Don’t leave a back road unchecked. Investigate every potential roost and feed, even if they seem like long shots. Get out of your truck, and walk over that hill to glass the hidden sloughs below. Better, slip on your waders or get in your boat, and check out distant backwaters, remote corners of a marsh or potentially undiscovered timber holes.
You won’t hit pay dirt every time. Heck, you probably won’t hit it every other time. Still, your finds will add up through the years, creating an impressive data base of go-to spots.
Jumping to incorrect conclusions goes hand in hand with laziness. It’s easy to see why. If you see birds in transit from a traditional roost to a frequently hot field, or vice versa, it’s easy to assume they’re in a pattern you’ve seen before. You might not realize you’ve made a mistake until those ducks and geese throw you a curveball the next day.
Never assume anything. Observe birds as long as possible to see where they lift off, how they approach an area, where they want to land and how long they stay there. Moreover, as recently mentioned by our friends at Fowled Reality, watch how ducks and geese move about a feed. Are they actively eating or seemingly searching for food? That advice doesn’t just go for ag fields, either. It applies to potholes, marshes, rivers and open-water divers.
Gather as much information as possible, and let the birds tell you what they’re doing. Then plot your hunting strategy.
This might be the oldest scouting trap. Every year, we hear how so-and-so and his buddies filled their boat with ducks the previous weekend at fill-in-the-blank wildlife area, and we have to get in on that action. Usually, however, our tail-piping results in a silent Saturday morning spent staring at empty skies — with 100 of our closest friends.
Will we never learn? Maybe someone actually experienced great hunting at that spot. By the time we hear about it, though, the story has been embellished substantially, and the action has dried up.
Nowadays, I don’t believe anything unless I witness it firsthand. I might not find a hotspot every hunt, but I refuse to chase rumors.
You’ve done it; pulled into the parking lot at the local duck spot and gasped at rows of headlights and grumpy hunters waiting to launch. Surely, great hunting must be attracting all those folks.
I’ve found the opposite to be true. Usually, they’ve just fallen into the aforementioned and yet-to-be discussed scouting traps. And even if that area holds good numbers of birds, the action probably won’t last long, as all those rednecks will blow ducks and geese out of there during the first 90 minutes.
Here’s a great scouting tip: Avoid areas with public boat launches during weekends or opening day. Actually, eschew crowds at all times. You’ll be more successful long-term, and you’ll do it in peace.
Most duck hunters have endured boring mornings when their shotguns seemed to rust in place but folks 500 yards away melted their barrels. The temptation, of course, is to set up near that area the next day. That's a bad idea for several reasons.
First, you have no confirmation what those guys were shooting at. Maybe they filled the boat with coots, or perhaps they blew 40 rounds trying to hit a few single buffleheads. Don't chase maybes.
Further, following gunfire is asking for trouble. If a group or two enjoyed quality shooting at an area, they'll likely be there the next few mornings. By crowding the spot, you reveal yourself as a tail-piper, create hard feelings and add to hunting pressure in the area.
You don't have to avoid the general area entirely, of course. Just investigate in the correct manner. Poke around the spot after gunning has subsided for the day, or glass the area from afar the next morning or evening. If you find birds, great. Then identify a spot where you can pursue them without crowding the folks already hunting there. If there's no room, however, consider looking elsewhere.
This relatively modern phenomenon has become especially loathsome. Seems like everyone discovered duck hunting forums and then social media at the same time, and many folks enjoyed posting pictures or stories of their success. Funny, but their hotspots seemed especially crowded the next weekend. And after a while, those spots weren’t so hot.
I’ve seen this unfortunate trend near home. For years, longtail hunting on Lake Michigan was a well-kept secret, enjoyed only by a few crusty big-water devotees. In the early 2000s, folks began to post picture after picture of drake longtails piled along the rocks of a very recognizable breakwall near several public launches. Suddenly, 20-plus rigs jammed those parking lots every day, and the little-known opportunity became a full-blown circus.
Hey, post pictures and hunting reports if you like. Everyone enjoys reading them. Just be very careful about revealing locations. Moreover, don’t be the guy who bases his next hunt on someone’s careless post.
Get Out and Scout
Just say no to these traps. Put in windshield time, and look high and low for birds. Be innovative and energetic. Avoid chasing gossip and boat lights. Finding your own ducks and geese far from the crowds is much more rewarding than taking the low road.
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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.