When birds get stale, try these tips to switch things up
Some years, duck season seems to flow seamlessly. Everything works, familiar spots produce and new adventures abound.
Other seasons, however, seem doomed from the start, as the weather warms, flights stall, honey holes dry up, birds get stale and light straps become the norm.
Sound familiar? Don’t panic. Even if your duck season has sucked thus far, you can still turn it around. Stay optimistic, keep an open mind and try these tips to reverse your fortunes.
Too often, duck hunters cling to memories and expect comfortable, familiar hunts to produce year after year. But ducks don’t care, and they don’t always use the same waters or follow traditional patterns. Review your journal, and take a hard look at what’s worked this season and what hasn’t. Determine what you did correctly each outing and where you screwed up. Then, eliminate bad spots, and correct your mistakes. A fresh, honest perspective won’t guarantee successful hunts, but it will eliminate the temptation to repeat unsuccessful efforts.
Sometimes, waterfowlers fall victim to pride, maintaining there’s no reason to change their approach if they’ve been successful for years. That often leads to a deep rut.
Observe and listen to hunters who are doing well. Don’t tailpipe them or steal spots. Rather, determine what they’re doing, and try to incorporate that into your hunting. Basically, don’t be afraid to take advice or try new strategies, even if it seems contrary to your philosophy. Even experts need a refresher now and then.
Maybe deficiencies in a specific skill set are sinking your hunts. Has your shooting stunk? Grind through some clays at the range to get back on track. Is your calling falling flat? Work with knowledgeable buddies to refine your timing and sound. Has your equipment let you down? Fix what you can, and vow to have it in better shape next year. Sometimes, improving even one element of duck hunting can save your season.
Duck hunters can be a bit snobbish, and that often keeps them from eating duck dinners. Timber hunters want to shoot greenheads in the woods, field hunters want honkers and mallards in the corn, and big-water guys demand ’bills and cans in the surf. But conditions and ducks don’t always allow that.
Take what’s on your plate. When timber mallards seem scarce, find a decent gaddy or teal hole that might offer a good shoot. When big water goes stale, look for mallards or woodies in small creeks or sloughs. And if fields stink, pull on your waders and find some sheet water or destination ponds. Take advantage of the best opportunity at the moment, even if it’s not your favorite style of hunting.
Hit the Road
Fresh scenery can often jump-start your season. That might mean driving two or three hours to another part of your state, or it could involve packing the truck for a whirlwind road trip to another flyway. Stay abreast of opportunities outside of your area, and if possible, hit the road to shake things up. View your trips as extended scouting sessions, and consider success a bonus. Even if you strike out, it’ll be better than slogging through the same poor hunts on familiar ground.
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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.