Pros give their tips on the right moment to take 'em
Deciding precisely when to shoot is often tricky, especially during tough conditions or when birds don’t finish well. It becomes more difficult when hunting with large groups, as folks sometimes aren’t on the same page or, worse, can’t help moving or peeking up at birds.
Still, unless you’re a hermit, you’ll frequently be part of a big group in a blind, pit, field or the timber. And when that happens, you’ll want someone with experience to call, “Take ’em.”
Here’s how several of today’s top duck hunting pros handle the situation.
Vandemore, who runs Habitat Flats near Sumner, Missouri, said he focuses intently on getting birds centered to the blind before giving the OK to shoot.
“I don’t like calling the shot when they are off to one side, because if people aren’t sticking to their lanes, somebody is going to get their bell rung,” he said. “With flocks of teal, a lot of times you need to call the shot a few seconds before they get to the decoys to allow guys time to get their guns up and out of the blind.”
Belding, host of The Fowl Life, likes to limit his groups to five or six shooters. However, when hunting with more folks, he said patience becomes increasingly critical.
“It’s important to keep in mind shooting zones for each hunter, and the goal is to get the birds to spread out across the front of the blind, giving each shooter a chance at a bird in their zone,” he said. “Ducks and geese will commit, and then they will bounce around as they choose their landing area. Not getting in a rush and letting them hunt you up is the key in timing your shot call.”
Further, Belding said he relies on experience to predict what birds will do and spring the trap at the correct moment.
“As you experience more and more hunts, you will become better at calling your call shot,” he said. “Success happens more over time as you see different hunting scenarios.”
Olmstead, also of Habitat Flats, said he considers multiple factors when calling the shots for large groups.
“The two biggest factors are safety and making sure everyone in the group is having the same opportunity at harvesting game,” he said. “With more hunters come more firearms, so you need to be extra cautious on when you call the shots. When you have a couple of hunters, you can call some shots that might be a little to the left or right of center and don’t have to worry about a long row of hunters potentially swinging guns above or in front of the rest of the group as you would with a large amount of people.”
The owner of Ridge and River Running Outfitters in southern Wisconsin, Dersham guides folks on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River. He bases his shot calling on the hunters in his boat and the conditions that day, which often determine how birds act.
“Some days, I won’t call a shot unless birds are finishing on my X,” he said. “That might look like 10- to 15-yard shots with birds with their feet down. Other times, I’m giving the green light at 25- to 30-yard shots with birds passing through. Typically, those days are during gray skies, and shot opportunities are minimal.”
Dersham said clients sometimes get antsy when birds don’t finish well and he holds off on calling questionable shots. However, he said erring on the side of quality opportunities always pays dividends.
“You can’t eat feathers, and any bird you knock down goes against your limit,” he said. “That means if you cripple a bird and we can’t find it, it’s still tallied up for your daily limit. There have been too many times we’ve spent hours looking for a crippled bird because one of my guys stated he can break 99 out of 100 clays only to spend a box of shells knocking down two birds.”
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.