Learn to compensate for the challenges presented by big blows
Every waterfowler craves windy days, when decoys bob and move like real birds, and ducks and geese move restlessly.
But although wind might bring mallards or honkers low into your spread, it can complicate the shot. In fact, you often have to adjust your shotgunning approach slightly to compensate during big blows.
First, let’s examine the nature of the problem. I don’t hold a physics degree or pilot’s license, so I cannot even speculate how much a 25-mph crosswind moves a shot string of No. 2 steel. Many experts would probably say there’s some effect but that overall drift is negligible at reasonable wing-shooting distances with the relatively large pellets we use for hunting. (Others might argue this. In fact, if you have trouble sleeping, check out some online shotgun forums on which members debate this topic. The bickering about vectors and air speed versus ground speed will have you snoozing in no time.)
Most folks agree that wind affects the target more than the shot pattern. Obviously, a clay target or live bird riding a 30-mph tailwind is really moving, and you’ll have to adjust your lead and swing through aggressively to break or kill it. However, it’s surprisingly easy to underestimate the speed of a duck or goose fighting a heavy headwind. Remember, that seemingly slow bird is incredibly aerodynamic, with a sleek body and powerful wings, so you still need to get ahead of it and follow through. If you don’t, you’ll miss. Those sight-picture adjustments aren’t usually deal-breakers, though, as wing-shooting in high winds is still pretty intuitive. See the target, react and swing through fluidly.
Decoying birds can actually create more trouble because they lull you into complacency. Ducks and geese land into the wind, of course, and they seem to float there forever when it’s really blowing. But the instant they sense danger, those “easy” birds will pump their wings to escape, and they can quickly back-pedal from sure-kill ranges to iffy or irresponsible distances in the time it takes you to rise from your blind or boat to shoot. Often, you’re still thinking about that candy 35-yard target when you swing on a bird that’s flared with the breeze to 55-plus. In addition, heavy gusts will let marginally hit ducks and geese sail much farther downwind, creating tough retrieves in some situations.
The solution is obvious: Let birds finish as much as possible, even if that means their feet almost touch the water or they drift overhead at 15 yards. Then, be ready to react quickly and decisively, taking the best shots and knowing when to hold off when the survivors zip out of range.
Also, pay special attention to those aforementioned cripples. Any competent dog will chase them down in a large field, small pothole or relatively easy cover. But a ringbill that sails 100 yards into wild rice or a bufflehead riding big waves and diving for long periods can create almost insurmountable problems. Dispatch marginally hit birds swiftly and decisively.
Finally, don’t let high winds rattle you and create a mental block about shooting. Gusty blows can make you uncomfortable in many situations and frighten you in big-water scenarios. Try not to think about the breeze. Identify good opportunities, let birds finish, use your instinctive wing-shooting skills and enjoy the day. After all, tomorrow might bring calm conditions and less action. And as I’ve proven many times, you can miss a duck in a 5-mph breeze just as easily as one in a 40-mph gale.
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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.