Duck Hunting: Just Add Wind, Please

By author of The Duck Blog

Kansas hunt exemplifies the problem with calm conditions

Wind finally turned on the duck machine during Day 2 in Kansas. Photo © Brian Lovett

An old-timer told me years ago that a good breeze solves many duck hunting dilemmas.

“You can shoot ducks when it’s warm, cold, sunny or cloudy,” he said. “But you need wind.”

That might be oversimplifying the magic formula, but it holds a lot of truth. Wind typically gets ducks moving, especially if it’s associated with cold temperatures or a weather change. Further, it provides natural motion to your decoys, making them look like real ducks milling about on the water rather than … well, decoys. When the weather combines wind, sun and cold temperatures, you’ll usually have good action, but again, wind is arguably the critical element.

I learned that lesson again in mid-November during a trip to Habitat Flats Central Prairie Lodge in southeastern Kansas. Featuring flooded agricultural fields and flooded-timber holes, and located near a major refuge, the property is tailor-made for killing ducks — and lots of them. During my visit, however, a classic case of Lovett’s Law (it’s worse than Murphy’s, you know) conspired against us. Temperatures hit highs in the 80s during the day, and calm conditions ruled. The first morning, friends Paul Wait, magazine editor for Delta Waterfowl, and Dennis Brune and Zach Scheidegger of ALPS Brands, and I managed one duck — a gadwall, if you’re wondering — despite seeing hundreds soar by on their way from feeds to the refuge. That evening, we equaled that total, scoring one greenwing, though we watched dozens of teal and mallards pour into our hole after shooting hours. The culprit? Dead-calm conditions.

“We’ve got ducks around,” said Cooper Olmstead, guide and co-owner of Habitat Flats in Kansas. “But with the warm weather and full moon, they’re feeding at night, and without wind, it’s just tough to work them in.”

His words were spot-on. Without wind, ducks just weren’t compelled to feed during shooting hours. Further, our spreads — although they featured gorgeous life-like decoys — looked like fake ducks on a mirror, not the real thing.

We needed a good breeze, and during our final morning hunt, we got it. A stiff south wind greeted us, and despite warm temps, birds wanted to work our hole. Small groups of greenwings started arriving at dawn, locking their wings and gliding into the spread for quality 30-yard shots. Even a nice greenhead got in on the action. After a frenzied first hour, we’d put together a nifty strap of teal and the aforementioned mallard.

Warm weather soon stopped the action, so we called a halt to our hunt and snapped pictures by the blind. The breeze had whipped ducks into action, and quality habitat, a solid setup and Olmstead’s calling sealed the deal. Sure, we hadn’t seen wave after wave of mallards and pintails dive-bombing our decoys, but we’d enjoyed a great shoot and overcame dismal conditions. And with a major prairie storm and cold front approaching, we knew the best was yet to come at Habitat Flats.

“Just send me the pictures,” I said to Olmstead as we left, knowing they’d soon be covered up with ducks and happy hunters.

He nodded and smiled. Of course, I figured he was also hoping for wind.

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