How to Scout for Ducks in Spring

By author of The Duck Blog

Some may think you’re wasting your time, but you can gain valuable intel now

Observations from a casual boat ride or family trip sometimes give you a leg up during duck season. Photo by The Fowl Life

Critical observers maintain that it’s fairly pointless to scout for ducks in spring. After all, seeing wood ducks zip through flooded timber or watching a raft of cans on a lake never guarantees those areas might produce during fall and winter.

However, spring provides good opportunities for duck hunters to take a few mental notes that might pay dividends or at least make hunting easier when the game gets real. I’m not suggesting that you fire up the mud motor and scour remote potholes before summer arrives. But it never hurts to keep your eyes open during spring hikes, boat rides and turkey hunts. Any info you acquire might be valuable when the season opens.

Make Note of Crops Planted

If you hunt agricultural fields for ducks and geese, note what farmers are planting during spring, especially in spots near refuges or other large roosting waters. During spring turkey trips, for example, I casually scan roadside fields to locate rye, oats, wheat or other small grains that might turn into good early-season goose feeds. Likewise, I pay attention to fields of seed and field corn near large waters, as those spots might attract hungry mallards and geese when the weather gets cold.

Locating promising crops doesn’t guarantee that birds will use those areas. Still, the process gives you a head start for scouting during the season.

Save Up Some Travel Tips

Spring is also a good time to get a better feel for the layout of hunting areas. Before full green-up, it’s easy to find out-of-the-way access points or convenient travel paths that might make walk-in hunts easier. And putting boots on the ground to snoop around those spots is considerably more enjoyable during spring than trying to plow through thick cattails during summer or stumbling around in the dark during November.

Also, casual boating or canoeing trips help you learn the navigation considerations of ducky waters before trying to ply them in darkness or bad weather. Encountering silted-in flats near boat landings or rock piles next to channels is never fun, but I’d rather have that happen in May than during December.

Watch Birds’ Reactions

As mentioned, it doesn’t mean much when you see ducks congregated at specific spots during spring. Usually, they’re migrating, and their needs are much different than in fall. Further, wet spring conditions produce a tremendous amount of seasonal water for birds to use. And of course, ducks and geese act much differently when they’re not subjected to hunting pressure. But you can learn a few things by observing birds. First, note how they use various waters and react to different conditions, such as following travel funnels in timber, massing against lee shorelines during windy days or congregating near reefs, celery beds or other food sources. Watching their habits and tendencies during spring might provide insight for how birds will react during similar conditions during the season.

Keep an Eye on the Subtle Stuff

If nothing else, spring lets you view unpressured birds and see how they interact and communicate. Listen to how ducks call, and incorporate that realism into your routines. Watch their body postures and how they interact on water or land, and try to emulate that in your decoy spreads. Practice identifying ducks in flight or by their silhouettes on the water. Often, such seemingly insignificant observations during the offseason add to your knowledge base and put you a step closer to success in the months ahead.

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