Never Shoot the Roost, Except …

By author of The Duck Blog

Waterfowl hunting in the afternoons can be surprisingly productive, especially if you follow this smart advice

Can't hunt mornings? No sweat. You can score during the second shift. Photo © Bill Konway

Sleepyheads, rejoice: Hunting ducks and geese in the afternoon can work just fine.

Evening waterfowl forays might seem like casual, throwaway affairs, but the last hours of the day can hold some great hunting. Try these tips to make your evening hunts as successful as early morning efforts.

Know When to Hunt Roosts

Conventional waterfowling wisdom holds that hunters should avoid shooting and pressuring roost areas, as that will likely make birds relocate and ruin future field and small-water hunting opportunities in the area. And that’s true, except in a few situations.

One hunt for a small number of ducks — say, 15 wood ducks at a tiny slough — probably won’t hurt anything. Shooting a few birds and spooking the rest will limit your chances there in the near future, but it’s not as if you’re flushing 1,000 mallards and honkers to another zip code.

Conversely, hunting very large waters — especially those with associated refuges — also won’t do much harm. An afternoon diver hunt on Lake Michigan or Pool 9 of the Mississippi River won’t bust birds to other haunts, as they have ample acreage on which to roost. Avoid hunting the “bedroom,” where birds spend the night. Instead, focus on travel routes where ducks fly from feeding or loafing areas to roosts. Set up far enough away so your shots don’t spook birds massing at the roost site.

Arrive early and plan to stay late for any evening water hunt. Many birds won’t move until the final hour of light. Be in position to take advantage, and hunt until the final bell. The last five minutes might provide your only opportunities.

Find the Feed

Agricultural fields might produce the best evening hunts. Puddle ducks or geese feed at such spots in the late afternoon or evening before returning to big-water roosts. Hunting fields is fairly straightforward: Scout to locate feeds, obtain permission from landowners, and then try to set up on the X or at least in an area where you can run traffic on passing birds.

For evening hunts, you can take your time setting up blinds and decoys. But it’s best not to get too casual, as you can never be sure when birds might start arriving. During warm early-season days, ducks and geese might not fly until the last hour of daylight. The same holds true during bitter late-season days or in the case of heavily pressured birds. On rainy days or during peak migration, birds sometimes fly surprisingly early, so you’ll want to be ready long before you anticipate shooting.

Pay particular attention to concealment. That’s important during any hunt but it can be critical in the evenings, when the first flocks will likely arrive while visibility is still good, letting them see any flaws in your hide.

Also, strive to set up so the sun sets at your back or at least 90 degrees to the left or right. That isn’t always possible, but success usually skyrockets when birds must look into the sun on approach.

Watch Your Shots and Gather Intel

Evening hunts carry a sense of anticipation, as ducks and geese might not stir until shooting hours have almost expired. But don’t fall into the trap of taking desperation shots. Let birds work close, and call quality shots. You do not want to sail a mallard or honker at shooting hours and have to search for a cripple in the dark, even with a dog. And there’s no sense in blowing up the area if the hunt doesn’t play out perfectly.

If nothing else, use the evening to observe how and when birds move, and put that recon to use the next time you hunt. You’ll face worse things in life than watching the sun set over the marsh or field.

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