How to choose the best course of action in six common situations
Success in duck hunting typically involves a simple recipe, mixing experience, observation, hard work and finely honed skills. But sometimes, it also requires quick in-the-field decisions that can make or break a hunt, and those often entail patience versus abrupt changes in strategy.
Decide correctly and you’re a hero. Goof up and you’re sunk. And often, the line seems very fine.
You’ll encounter this a lot during prairie or small-water hunts: Despite your best reconnaissance efforts, birds overshoot your pothole and land in another over the hill or across the marsh.
Solution? Simple. Pick up and move immediately. Yeah, that requires lots of work. And sure, if you stay put, some birds might filter into your hole. But the ducks are telling you where they want to be and how to kill them. Listen.
Hunting midday loafing waters for ducks and honkers gets more complicated. Typically, you won’t flush any birds off those spots early in the morning, as mallards and geese will likely be feeding in grain fields and will filter into loafing areas later that morning. But doubt creeps in the longer you wait without success.
Solution: Wait it out. If birds looked secure loafing at that spot and your concealment is good, you’ll likely work some within range. And if they suddenly decide to loaf elsewhere that day, there isn’t much you can do about it.
Fields of Difficulty
Hunting dry fields can present a larger version of the pothole problem. You’ve set a big spread and grassed in your blinds, but geese or ducks circle and then land in another part of the field. And of course, they attract every other flock that passes by.
Solution: It’s OK to be patient with the first flock or two, but act as soon as possible after birds land elsewhere, whether it’s to double-check your decoys and concealment or move the entire rig to the new X. Yeah, you’ll flush those birds that already landed, but so what? You won’t kill them anyway. And by refining or moving your setup, you might score on flocks that arrive later.
The pothole dilemma gets trickier yet if you’re hunting public timber. You might realize that ducks are ignoring your hole and prefer another, but because of thick cover, you can’t determine exactly where, and trying to switch spots would involve considerable time and effort. Further, you can bet several other groups are hunting between you and that spot the ducks prefer.
Solution: Usually, you’re stuck. Make the most of the morning and then redouble your scouting efforts that afternoon and evening to find the hot holes. And then make sure no one beats you to those spots the next morning.
A Big Move
Big-water hunters know this problem well: You’ve boated across vast areas of open water and set a huge spread. But at daylight, ducks want to be a half-mile or more away. Moving would involve a colossal undertaking and doesn’t guarantee success.
Solution: This really depends on the situation. If you’re set up for an afternoon layout hunt, for example, you probably won’t have time to pick up and switch spots. However, if you set up in the morning and have all day to hunt, moving is probably best, if conditions and hunting pressure allow.
This might be the classic small-water riddle: You flush ducks off a pond or slough, quickly set up and wait for them to return, but after an hour, nothing has. Stay or go?
Solution: Years ago, an hour was the maximum I’d wait for ducks to return. Then, several uncharacteristically patient hunts taught me that waiting is sometimes best. Again, this depends on the situation. When you flush mallards from small waters, you might need to wait several hours for those wary buggers to return. Other puddle ducks, assuming they’re relatively unpressured, typically come back sooner, so I’m far less patient with them. And with divers, it depends greatly on the weather. If I can set up with a good offshore wind, I’ll be fairly patient, as any birds that return will likely want to work the lee shoreline. If it’s calm, I’ll see how the first few returning birds react. If they land short and stick to open water, I’ll likely seek a better spot.
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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.