Waterfowl Hunting Mistakes I Made This Season

By author of The Duck Blog

(And How You Can Avoid Them)

Waterfowl hunts don't always go as planned. Still, eliminating stupid mistakes will help you long-term. Photo © Phil Kahnke

Reflecting on the 2018-’19 waterfowl season, I’ve identified and relived several errors that cost me birds or at least hindered my hunts.

Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but we should at least try to eliminate dumb gaffes. In that spirit, here’s a light-hearted look at my biggest autumn blunders — and some common-sense tips on how to avoid them.

Dead Red?

With four gaddies on my strap, I only needed a pair of ducks to finish my daily South Dakota limit. And when I discovered a large slough full of redheads, my course seemed clear. I loaded some decoys on my back and started the long trek toward the leeward edge of the water.

But I hadn’t fully considered the situation. Sure, the redheads flushed at my approach. And yeah, they filtered back soon after, dive-bombing the slough. But the pond was large enough that they simply landed in the middle, far out of range, and resumed feeding. I switched setups twice, but my frustration continued. Finally, I realized my folly and left. And although I shot my final two ducks later that day, I couldn’t forget my failure with the redheads.

Solution: Think before you act. Divers on a large slough with only a few decoys? Maybe in a gale-force wind or sitting atop a hot food source. But trying to decoy those buggers when they had access to all that open water was pointless. I would have been better off hunting that slough in better conditions or finding another spot.

Cover Conundrum

Honkers had been hammering the cornfield for a week. Better, a buddy and I had exclusive hunting access. And with fresh snow on the ground, we anticipated a great shoot. We drove our decoys and blinds to the X, unloaded everything, covered our hides with white sheets and then parked the trucks. And when the first flock left a nearby roost, my hand tightened on the shotgun.

And then they flared at 65 yards. As did the next flock. Hmm. The decoys looked OK, and we were hidden. Wait — forehead slap — were they seeing our tire tracks? I’m not sure, but we only shot one goose that day.

Solution: Always be critical of your concealment, especially with spooky late-season birds. I can’t swear that those geese flared from our truck tracks, but it makes sense. And it wouldn’t have taken too much effort to use a rake to cover our paths.

Bird Watching

During my first-ever morning in Maine, I soaked up the sights and sounds of the early-morning eider flight. My feet were anchored between two rocks as I leaned back on a barnacle-crusted boulder and marveled as the first flock sailed past.

“Shoot,” someone said.

But I hadn’t loaded my gun. Opportunity lost.

Solution: Always be ready at shooting light. Be set up, alert and, mostly, loaded up to take advantage of opportunity. Yeah, we shot quite a few eiders that day, but I could have started the shoot in grand fashion … had I been prepared.

Rested and Roasted

“What time are you getting there?” I asked my buddy.

“Probably 3 a.m.,” he replied.

Oof. And it was 90 minutes away. Typically, I would have been all in. However, I had some family responsibilities later that day and wasn’t sure I wanted to feel like a zombie by afternoon.

“I’d better pass, man,” I said. “Shoot ’em up, and send pictures.”

And he did. It was a dandy picture, actually, showing smiling hunters with a good pile of ducks and some geese.

Me? Oh, I was well rested — albeit slightly testy — that afternoon and evening. And somehow, Warren Zevon’s “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” found its way onto my iTunes playlist.

Solution: Go hunting when you can. True, I would have been fuzzy and exhausted during my family commitments later that day, but I’m guessing adrenaline and good memories would have seen me through. The Lord only gives you so many days to hunt. Take advantage of them.

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