24 Tips for Today’s Duck and Goose Hunters

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Some advice is timeless. These down and dirty tricks will help you fill limits when the going gets tough

Top waterfowlers don't depend on luck. They innovate and try every trick possible to fill straps. Photo © Bill Konway

Today’s waterfowl aren’t like the birds of 20 years ago. With technological innovations such as hyper-realistic decoys and motorized spinning wings, and guys who can seemingly call better than real ducks and geese, the flyways have become a different ballfield. But these 24 tried-and-true tactics can put more birds in your face.

1. Go Belly Down

With ice or snow on the ground, geese often land and immediately lie down. Their body heat melts the hard cover, exposing food beneath. Then they’ll feed, sleep and loaf without rising. Sleeper or legless decoys are realistic during such conditions and almost impossible for birds to ignore.

2. Put it on Paper

Turkey hunters believe in patterning their guns. Why don’t waterfowlers? The first step to becoming a better shooter is knowing how your shotgun performs every time you pull the trigger. Time on the range before the opener with various chokes and ammunition can make a huge difference in your shooting.

3. Rediscover Pass-Shooting

Pass-shooting can be productive, especially during the late season. The key is being in the right location. Scouting before and during the season will reveal active flight lines and flight times. Then put yourself under birds, and use restraint when calling shots.

4. Obsess Over Concealment

There’s nothing wrong with being Type A about camouflage and concealment. Becoming invisible is what it’s about. Cut enough brush for your blinds to last all season, and stack what you don’t use nearby. It will age with time and will match native vegetation when it’s time to touch up your hide.

5. Pack a Bag

A properly outfitted blind bag can save a hunt. Essentials include aspirin, Rolaids, cable ties, a cell phone, safety pins, vehicle lock de-icer, emergency duct table, 20 feet of decoy cord and, of course, toilet paper in a zipper-top bag.

6. Seek the Unseen

Seek tiny, out-of-the-way corners of pressured public wetlands that don’t get much human attention. Detailed maps or online mapping tools can reveal the location of almost untouched hotspots. If you’re willing to walk and pack a small spread, you might be surprised at what you find.

7. Hunt a River

Moving water — tides, rivers or anything that flows — is more difficult to hunt than still waters. Therefore, those spots often don’t see as much hunting pressure as impoundments, marshes and sheet water. Find a quiet, shallow stretch of river, toss out a dozen water-keels at midmorning, and settle in.

8. Try Some Flats

Have a stack of Canada silhouettes gathering dust in the corner? Get them out, clean them up, and mix them into a spread of full-bodies. The appearing/disappearing look of two-dimensional cutouts creates the illusion of movement to birds in the air and lends realism to an otherwise frozen rig.

9. Mix it Up

Everyone runs Canadas for Canadas and mallards for ducks. Why not give birds something they haven’t seen? Try six snow goose decoys to the side of your honker spread, as the white attracts attention. Or use six drake pintail, wigeon or gadwall blocks in your mallard rig. Different can be good.

10. Take an Online Lesson

Today’s duck and goose gurus are some of the best in history. And they’re accessible. Thanks to the Internet, outdoors educators such as Chad Belding and Sean Mann are at our fingertips. Ask questions. Read forums. Study YouTube channels. And practice.

11. Make them Swim

When river hunting, modify three or four decoys to swim back and forth in the current. About 3 inches back from the traditional anchor point, drill a hole through the water keel, or press a hot fence staple into a plastic weighted keel, and then tie your cord there. The leading edge works like a crankbait lip, making the decoy move.

12. Observe and Report

Pro goose hunters never stop studying their subjects. Watching and listening to birds year-round can greatly increase your knowledge when it’s time to set decoys and blinds.

13. Sweat the Details

No details are insignificant when hiding from birds or trying to decoy ducks and geese. Sloppy hunters kill some birds, but they aren’t consistent. Consistency means paying attention to every detail. Make it look good.

14. Use Old-School Motion

Spinning-wing decoys and other gadgets might be the rage, but it’s hard to beat an old-fashioned jerk cord for creating the illusion of feeding ducks. Use a lightweight water-keel decoy. They bounce better and send out more ripples. When in doubt, drop the call and pull the string.

15. Back Off

When late-season geese get decoy-wise, try this: Set six or eight full-bodies in the open where there’s goose traffic, such as a cut beanfield. Use natural cover — a fencerow or brush pile — as a blind 60 to 80 yards downwind. Birds should swing into range as they check the decoys but before they slide off.

16. Maintain Your Spread

Realistic, natural-looking decoys are productive. Take time to keep your blocks clean. Use cold water and a stiff-bristled brush only. Don’t use soap, as it can enhance ultra-violet sheen. Paint and upgrade blocks as needed. Flocked goose decoys are very life-like, and a fresh coat of colors will do wonders for a mallard spread.

17. Get up and Move

Being mobile is an important aspect of successful waterfowling. Moving when you need to is another story. It’s often inconvenient to pack up and relocate, but it’s also frustrating to sit and watch birds work where you could be. If you can, move.

18. Go Natural

Blinds are nice, but the best blind is often what Mother Nature provides: the edge of a cornfield, a fence line or a small stand of cattails. Sometimes, donning dark camo and imitating a rock at a shoreline or tideline provides exceptional gunning.

19. Hunt Mid-Morning

Don’t miss the midmorning flight. Often, you’ll be the only hunter around to reap the benefits of the second shift. Watch the weather, and learn your birds. You might not have to get up at 3:30 a.m.

20. Learn From the Best

Curb your ego, and open your mind. There’s a lot of information available from knowledgeable waterfowlers. I’ve learned volumes over the past 20 years from fellow hunters. Everyone has a trick, and most folks are willing to share.

21. Take a Trip

Start saving money, and take an annual trip. It doesn’t have to be far or expensive. And it provides a break from the routine. Try a layout hunt on the Mississippi River, a week freelancing in South Dakota or a no-holds-barred adventure to Saskatchewan.

22. Use Coots

An all-coot spread can be effective, particularly for pressured birds. The trick is motion. Set 20 to 25 coots in a blob. It doesn’t matter if they’re touching. Rig a jerk cord with four to six coots, and put it center mass in the spread. The goal is to create a feeding frenzy. This works incredibly well on wigeon.

23. Downsize

On pressured or late-season birds, small spreads — eight Canada decoys or 10 mallards with a jerk cord — often produce better, simply because they’re different. Low numbers require the utmost in realism. Use the best you can afford, and keep them looking good.

24. Get Good, Not Lucky

The best waterfowlers don’t depend on luck to fill straps. They’re good at what they do because they practice and they’re persistent. You should be, too.

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