Take a Micro Approach This Season to Locate Hidden Gems
Duck and goose hunters tend to think big: large marshes, expansive sloughs, massive rivers or sprawling lakes.
Yet some of the best waterfowling spots are downright tiny, including creeks and backwaters, micro sloughs or lakes, tiny spots on larger water and even pint-sized dry fields. Usually, the biggest trick to hunting these areas is finding them. However, some special considerations apply. Here’s how to get small and score big.
Creeks and Backwaters
Everyone loves to jump-shoot creeks, but we’ll stick to decoy hunting here. Mallards, wood ducks and even black ducks love to hide and loaf in secluded creek corners or bends, or especially at tiny backwater areas just off the stream. If you find one of these spots, locate good cover nearby, and get there well before light. Toss out a decoy or two if you like, but remember, birds are using the spot for a reason. Sometimes, you won’t need any blocks. Take advantage of the first good opportunities, but expect the action to die fairly quickly. Then get out, and let the area settle down for several days.
Small backwaters off large rivers might be the best micro spots. Ducks often roost on larger waters and then hit tiny bays and bayous to feed and loaf during daylight. Again, find good cover, set up early and make hay during the first few minutes of shooting. Then leave, and check the area after a few days of rest.
Small Sloughs or Lakes
I love hunting small potholes, sloughs, springs and lakes. It’s waterfowling at its most basic. However, before you hunt these spots, identify how ducks and geese are using it. Destination waters — spots where birds feed and loaf while roosting elsewhere — are best. You can slip in early, set a few decoys and wait for the flight. And, provided you don’t pound through two boxes of shells during your initial hunt, birds will probably resume using the area in a few days. Roosting spots require a different approach. Often, it’s best to leave these alone and find out where birds are going during daylight. Blowing up the roost can push birds out of the area, making hunting tougher. However, if you want to hunt a roost pond, do it in the afternoon and evening, as ducks or geese return. You’ll probably get one really good shoot from such a place, but then birds will abandon it for safer roosts.
A word about hunting loafing ponds for geese: This is a great tactic, but make sure everything seems natural. You don’t want to put out a spread of 150 full-bodies and start double-clucking at the first flock in the distance. Set up in the morning, when geese are likely feeding in fields, and put out a natural-looking spread — that is, one that mimics what geese are doing at the water. If they’re huddling against a shoreline or sleeping on shore, imitate that. And it’s best not to match their numbers. In other words, don’t put out 35 decoys at a pond where 35 geese are loafing. Instead, throw out six. Make it appear as though one family group has returned from feeding and all is well at the loafing spot. Call as you need to, but remember that you won’t need to get their attention. They’re coming to the spot for a reason. Often, you’ll look up and see several honkers locked on and committed before you hear anything.
Small Spots on Big Lakes or Marshes
This is the needle in the waterfowling haystack: tiny spots on much larger waters that attract pressured ducks or geese. They might be miniature openings amid heavy cover, such as rice, cattails or timber. Or, it could be a tiny bay protected from the wind by a rocky point.
Hunt these spots as if they’re micro waters. Good concealment is priority No. 1. Realism in the setup is close behind. Again, use a few decoys, but don’t go overboard. And think twice before grabbing that call, as birds will probably commit to the spot anyway if everything appears normal.
These micro gems can be especially productive because, like small backwaters off large rivers, the associated big water will likely hold a vast supply of birds. If you shoot a few out of a small spot, others will probably start using it later.
This situation doesn’t occur often, but you’d better act quickly when it does. Despite their affinity for large ag fields, which offer safety and abundant food, ducks and even geese sometimes feed in tiny fields near cover. I’ve seen this mostly with wood ducks and local Canada geese, but migrant geese and puddle ducks will sometimes favor small spots, too.
Simply, this is gold. Leave your field blinds at home, and set up in the weeds or woods near the tiny field. Again, go light on the decoys and the call, but bring plenty of shells. And make the most of it, because those feeding birds won’t return after being hunted at that tiny area.
Let the windswept lakes, deep rivers and sprawling refuges get all the glory next season. Find some small spots and cash in. Ducks and geese will be there. You should be, too.
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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.