12 Reasons Duck Hunters Get Skunked

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Is your duck strap empty too often? Then stop making these critical mistakes

"Why do my buddies fill straps while I stare at empty skies?" Maybe it's time to take a hard look at how you hunt. Photo © Austin Ross

Most hunters don’t shoot ducks every day. Bad luck, mishaps afield and many other factors let the skunk creep into our blinds now and then.

Even so, some hardcore guys fill the boat consistently. If you’re not in this elite group, you might take a long look at your tactics and trouble-shoot your approach by starting here.

These are some of the reasons why you don’t kill ducks.

1) You Don’t Go

This is ridiculously simple, but it’s true. You can’t shoot ducks if you don’t hunt. Family, career and other aspects of life often trump duck hunting, limiting our time afield. But if you sincerely love the marsh and enjoy filling straps, you’ll find a way to get out there. Hunt before work. Hunt before church. Jump-shoot a creek or pothole during your lunch hour. Reserve precious vacation days and personal time for duck hunting. You can sleep during the off-season, and you’ll never regret watching the sun rise and feeling the north wind at your back.

2) You Quit Early

This goes hand in hand with problem No. 1. Again, you won’t kill ducks if you’re not out there. True, some mornings fizzle into busts, and staring at empty skies becomes a drag. But ducks often surprise you with brief midmorning flights or unexpected visits. And even scratching out one or two more birds before noon beats packing up and heading home by 8:30 a.m.

3) You Don’t Scout

Truly successful waterfowlers often scout more than they hunt. You must find birds and identify situations that let you spring the trap, and the only way to do that is by spending substantial time behind the wheel, looking for birds. Have a slow morning on the lake? Boat to other areas to see where birds are loafing or feeding. Off the X during your goose hunt? Get in your truck and find the hot field. Always seek the next great hunt.

4) You’re in the Wrong Spot

Finding huntable ducks is critical. But identifying the best setups to take advantage of them is almost as important. Sometimes, the X is obvious: the high spot in a picked cornfield where every honker wants to be, for example. But other days, ideal setups remain hazy. Watch how ducks use an area: when they’re there, how they approach it and how they react to changing wind and weather conditions. Then locate a good hide, plot how you’ll set the spread and, if possible, keep the sun to your back. Many other factors will come into play. Use your experience and observations to forge a solid plan.

5) You Hunt Crowded Places

If you consistently hunt areas with lots of human competition, you’re in the wrong spot. Nothing ruins hunts more consistently, even in areas with lots of ducks. You’ll do far better by locating lightly pressured areas with fewer birds. Seek remote or little-known corners of public properties. Find spots that are difficult to access. Save your pennies for a small lease. Above all, get away from other hunters.

6) You Refuse to Move

Even the best plans go awry some days. Admit when birds won’t finish or seem to prefer another area, and then move. Did the cans start working a distant point when the wind shifted? Haul in those lines and motor there. Are the mallards bypassing your pothole for a hidden slough 250 yards behind you? Pull the blocks, and take a hike. Relocating takes a lot of time and substantial effort, especially with a big spread, but it’s usually worthwhile. Stubbornly sticking with a poor setup is a recipe for failure.

7) You’re Not Hidden

You won’t kill many ducks if they can see you. Concealment is critical. That takes many forms, including brushing in a layout blind to match a field, hunkering low in prairie grasses, or even crouching among shoreline rocks or hugging a tupelo gum tree. The bottom line? Do everything possible to remain invisible to sharp-eyed ducks. And then do more. You cannot be too hidden.

8) Your Spread Sucks

Decoys paint a picture for incoming ducks, providing long-range attraction and close-range confidence. Still, some guys toss out a few blocks and don’t give their spread another thought. Whether on big or small water, with divers or puddlers, remember these basic tenants: Keep your spread realistic. Make sure it includes motion, especially during calm days. And configure your blocks to guide the approach of ducks. Further, watch how the first few flocks react to your blocks. If they land short or won’t finish, switch things up.

9) You Can’t Call

Calling might not be vital in some scenarios (big-water bluebills, for example) but it’s darn effective in others, such as hunting flooded timber, chasing puddlers during foggy mornings or trying to traffic geese and ducks in fields. Don’t worry about mimicking a three-time world-champion caller. Try to sound like a duck. Listen to video clips and real birds, and then reproduce those sounds on a call. Observe how ducks react to calling, and learn when to hit them and when to shut up.

10) You Can’t Shoot

This is pretty simple: If you cannot consistently hit flying ducks, you won’t kill many, even if you’ve done everything else right. The solution is easy: Practice wingshooting — a lot. Shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays and five-stand. Hunt doves, crows, pheasants and other birds. Practice shouldering and swinging your gun (unloaded) at home so the act becomes second nature. Seek advice from more skilled shooters. Wingshooting is a perishable skill, so don’t let yourself get rusty.

11) You Don’t Investigate New Methods

When birds get stale and spots burn out, even high effort and proven approaches can fall short. Two choices: You can stick with convention and watch empty skies, or you might try something new and innovative to see what happens. Pare down your spread. Hunt at midday. Set up downwind from your decoys to catch spooky ducks on their approach. Above all, experiment. You have little to lose, and you might discover a cool new tactic.

12) You Don’t Pay Attention to Details

This holds true with any of the aforementioned problems. Always observe and troubleshoot every aspect of a hunt. Watch how birds react, and identify the reason. Be quick to formulate simple solutions — fixing the decoys, pulling the spinners, boosting your cover, tweaking your setup — and act on them. Hindsight won’t help you kill more ducks. Sharp-eyed observation and a critical approach will.

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