Forecast have you down? Try these waterfowling tips
Weather might affect waterfowl hunting more than any other outdoor pursuit. It dictates when and even where they move. Shoot, it pretty much determines if they’ll even be in your hunting area.
Meteorologists seemingly like to taunt waterfowlers, promising north winds, plunging barometers and cooler temps but then delivering the opposite. Experienced hunters remain undaunted, however, and continue to go afield even when conditions seem lousy. And why not? You’ll never fill straps sitting at home.
Here’s how to find duck and goose hunting success in various weather conditions.
Contrary to antiquated conventional wisdom, rain doesn’t boost waterfowl hunting success. Actually, steady moderate to heavy rain makes hunting tough, especially for divers.
Solution: Gauge the situation. If the forecast calls for intermittent precipitation, get out there. Birds will fly during breaks in the rain. When hunting fields, be patient, as ducks and geese might fly late but spend most of the day feeding. Or, try to time your hunts around major weather shifts associated with precipitation, such as a plummeting barometer, an incoming cold front or a large shift in wind direction.
Unseasonably warm temperatures usually equal tough sledding for duck hunters. The migration stalls, and birds get stale. Further, they don’t want to move.
Solution: Hunt hard during the coolest periods of the day — that is, the first few hours of daylight and the hour or two before sunset. And when temperatures warm, consider scouting or jump-shooting, both of which will be more productive than watching your decoys bake in the sun.
Most waterfowlers enjoy fog because the No. 1 strategy is right up their alley: Call — a lot. Ducks and geese can’t locate other birds by sight, so they rely on sound to find their brethren at feeding and loafing areas. Get on that call to invite them in. Often, they’ll drop right in.
Surprisingly, I’ve also enjoyed some dandy big-water diver hunts in fog. Just be careful navigating in that soup.
As with rain, clouds don’t improve waterfowl hunting. In fact, cloudy conditions make hunting tough, as birds seem to spy danger and clumsy setups much more easily.
Solution: Make extra effort to ensure that your setup is concealed. Set your decoys so birds don’t finish directly toward your blind or boat. And make the most of good opportunities.
To me, sunny skies, cool temps and a good breeze represent ideal conditions. Sun lets ducks and geese see decoys at long distances. Further, having the sun at least somewhat at your back obscures the vision of approaching birds, meaning they’re less likely to pick you out and far more likely to finish.
Rain typically suppresses waterfowl movements. Snow, conversely, makes birds crazy, seemingly sending them into feeding and migration frenzies. Solution: Get out there, preferably before or during the early stages of a snowstorm. Chances are you’ll enjoy an epic day.
You can kill ducks and geese when it’s warm, sunny, cloudy, rainy, foggy or during any other condition, but you need wind. It prompts birds to move, even later in the day. It dictates their travel and guides their approach. In fact, if you can’t appreciate the effects wind has on waterfowling, we can’t be friends.
As with snow or wind, if waterfowling in frigid conditions doesn't get you excited, we have nothing to discuss. When it's truly cold, scout hard for open water, as remaining birds will stack up there. Or, break ice to make your own hole, or keep an area open using an ice-eater or similar method. In agricultural areas, hit crop fields, as birds will be hungry.
As sure as ducks and geese will fly south this fall, weather conditions will vary. Ultimately, you have to roll with it and make the most of each day. Think, plan, react and adapt. Don’t get discouraged about poor conditions. Waterfowlers deal with the weather. Leave the excuses to deer hunters.
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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.