Those hardcore Gen-X call masters hidden in well-constructed blinds have plenty on this waterfowler. Me, I get down and dirty. I walk some of my quackers and honkers up, taking them on the flush. Yep, I slither like a snake to put the wingshooting hurt on those loafing greenheads.
Sure, I love blowing calls, just ask my long-suffering family in the off-season, but there are times those ducks (and geese) are rafted up tighter than a well-placed shot pattern. In such moments, you’ve got to go to them to make things happen. At least I do…
WAFFLE HOUSE SCOUTING
What do you do when the birds stop moving? Hit the local breakfast diner, no doubt. And that’s fine, of course. Better yet: You might even get some insider information from the fry cook when he/she steps out of the kitchen: “Yeah, I saw some ducks loafing over at (such and such) creek.”
That’s the time to finish up the last of your scrambled eggs and pay the tab.
I keep a small notebook in my truck that fills each season with contact numbers, addresses, locations, and word-of-mouth advice from farmers, landowners, and other hunters who may not chase ducks, but who are willing to share details of where they’ve seen them. You should too.
Forget about doing this during the margins of the day. That’s when birds are moving. That’s when there’s plenty of shooting, with birds cupping and committing to your calling. “Camo Crawling 101” exams often take place from midmorning to mid-afternoon, the time when the other guys are loafing, and waterfowl often are, too.
Bluebird days tend to move fewer ducks. Storm events and especially strong winds will move waterfowl to sheltering coves, river bends, and breaks. Those are the places you want to check out between the dawn and dusk margins of the day.
Think like an upland gunner moving through cover for quail, pheasants, or grouse. But stay low. Don’t make a racket. Your objective is to slink into position before you get birds in the air.
Keep that shotgun muzzle off the ground as you move, and be careful not to collect any debris in it.
In some states – like Maine where I make my home base – you’ve got to wear hunter orange when you’re on the move for waterfowl during the deer firearms season. No blind, no decoys, you’re not legal. Full camouflage is permissible only when you’re stationary and outside of whitetail gun season.
Make sure you are doing it legally wherever you stalk up your ducks. Across the border in New Hampshire, where I also belly crawl for river ducks during the firearms whitetail phase of fall, I tend to wear an orange cap or vest on the approach, removing it as I draw close to the flushing spot. This varies from state to state. Check your regulations to be sure.
Okay, you know where the ducks and geese are loafing. Using terrain to hide your movements, look ahead to see if birds are rafted up on that favorite pothole or creek, farm field, or river bottom. As you approach elbow-like corners, get low, and slowly belly crawl. Get into flushing position, shotgun ready. Ripples on the water will sometimes key you into the presence of ducks.
In such situations, always identify your flushing target before shooting. Visualize your approach before you make it. Check out trees that will shield you. Keep an eye on your objective as you make your move. Slow down. Don’t rush it. This is all about getting into position.
HIDE YOUR HIDE
The fine art of jump-shooting sitting ducks on the flush after belly crawling is assisted by moving undetected on the ground, behind brush, leaning against trees, and basically making like vegetation on your approach.
If you’re moving through a hardwoods situation toward a duck holding water, wear Realtree AP or Xtra. If you’re making a stalk on a marsh, conceal yourself in MAX-5. If it’s an agricultural setting, it’s the same deal. Wear a variety of options. The extra-cab of my truck looks like a walk-in camo closet. Does yours?
SHOOT TO KILL
Yeah, I get excited too. It’s why we do this. But still, you’ve got to be in control. You’ve got to steady yourself for the shot. While big numbers of sky-winging ducks might jumpstart your heart, pick out a single from the group and drop it cleanly. Doubles are only possible after you anchor that first bird. Flock-busting is out.
I always try to aim for not just the body of the duck, but the head and neck, and better yet, the black eye of that winging bird. It’s much like picking a patch of hair on a whitetail or feather on a wild turkey before you try to arrow it. Focus man, focus.
And when you take that shot, don’t always take the closest one in range, but maybe a duck on the edge of it. That will give you enough time to double if you have to try for the deuce. Me, I usually go for just one, limit depending, though even I’ve scratched out a few doubles in the past.
For safety’s sake, take binoculars along. I’ll tell you why. There have been some rare occasions I’ve done one of two things: Stalked up on real ducks that first looked like fakes. And cut the distance to flush decoys that first appeared to be real.
My bad. Tell me you haven’t, and I’ll call you a fibber. Occurred the first time not long after I turned 40. You young guys, just wait. Study the rafted ducks for a long period of time. If those feeding tail-up mallards never come up for air, they’re not real. If they do, you’ve got the real thing in front of you.
You also need to identify the species of duck or goose you’re moving on. Mallards? How many greenheads are in the group? Is it tough to figure out what you’ve got in front of you? Don’t proceed until you do.
I once spied a white blob that seemed out of place on a tidal creek that held my attention. Binoculars helped reveal it was a single snow goose. A steady approach got me in range, the bird in the air, and fried goose with gravy over rice on my supper table that night.
Get close. Have fun. Hunt safely.
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