January Gems: 5 Places Late-Season Ducks Love to Hide

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Try These Potential Hotspots for Last-Chance Action

January brings a wave of excitement across the country. No, not the football playoffs. It’s the final push of duck season, and hunters know they only have a few weeks to make memories for another year.

Trouble is, January ducks can be … um, challenging. Many birds have been harassed and shot at since September, and survivors have pretty much seen everything during their harrowing trips down the flyways.

Weather adds to the challenge. During warm years, many ducks linger in the North, leaving Southern hunters frustrated. When it’s exceptionally cold, like during the 2018 season, even Southern areas can freeze, turning typically productive duck holes into makeshift skating rinks. And when you inject heavy hunting pressure into the mix, January duck hunting can seem like a difficult proposition.

We can’t control the weather or pressure. However, some simple guidelines can help you locate those wary, sneaky January ducks. Let’s look at five places late-season birds love to frequent.

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Big RiversBig RiversBig RiversBig RiversBig Rivers

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1 | Big Rivers

When bayous, backwaters, impoundments or flooded timber freezes, ducks often relocate to the nearest open water. In many cases, that’s the closest large river. Switch up your tactics to ambush them there.

Shoreline hunts can be productive, especially at points, bends or wide runs where ducks might naturally swing close to shore. Islands with cover work even better, as they let you play almost any wind and can put you in the center of the river channel. Sandbar hunts also produce, especially if ducks or geese have been loafing on sandbars after feeding. Bring your layout blinds and several sacks of full-body decoys.

Just remember, be careful while boating on winter rivers. And rig your water decoys with sufficiently long lines and heavy weights to hold in the current.

Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

Windswept Big Water Windswept Big Water Windswept Big Water Windswept Big Water Windswept Big Water

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2 | Windswept Big Water

Even during the hardest freezes, some windswept portions of larger waters stay open overnight. Naturally, these become attractive roosting or even feeding spots for waterfowl.

Often, it’s tough to hunt these spots, as they can be surrounded by yards of fairly thick ice. Look for wind-whipped areas near beaches, points, islands or shorelines — places you can access and hunt safely. Better, seek windswept spots on smaller impoundments, and use a commercial ice-eater to help keep these attractive areas open for ducks and geese.

Photo © Bill Konway

CreeksCreeksCreeksCreeksCreeks

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3 | Creeks

Many relatively small creeks and streams stay open during hard freezes. In some areas, spring-fed running water never freezes. In others, the swift flow of current prevents ice from forming atop the water. Either way, these tiny open spots can be duck magnets during cold weather, especially if they’re adjacent to large refuges, lakes, rice fields or flooded timber.

Jump-shooting such spots can be magical. Look for winding streams with ample overhead cover, where you can slip close to ducks and find them loafing under trees or brush. If you must hunt relatively featureless creeks or ditches, locate a workable set-up spot, and toss out a few decoys. Shooting can be fast and challenging in these situations.

Photo © Bill Konway

Heavy CoverHeavy CoverHeavy CoverHeavy CoverHeavy Cover

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4 | Heavy Cover

Here’s a great tip from Justin Martin, general manager of Duck Commander, and James Buice, avid hunter and frequent Realtree.com waterfowl contributor: Late-season ducks love to hide in thick stuff.

“In really heavily hunted areas, I’ll start looking for heavy cover — areas that are not as obvious for other hunters,” Buice said. “Mallards will drop down into tiny holes in the canopy and filter into these thickets to feed when heavily pressured. Google Earth won’t help here, as the holes in the canopy are usually too small to see. You have to burn a morning, watch ducks and try to follow them. Wait until people start shooting, and see where the birds go after they’re shot at. These sanctuary holes are great a few hours after shooting light.”

Martin said hunters should avoid placing too many decoys in openings, as ducks want to land there and then swim to trees that provide overhead cover. Buice agreed.

“We’ll move the decoys to cover, pull the spinning-wings and use our feet to kick water,” he said. “They’re used to seeing every spread in the country, so when they don’t see ducks except on the edges of the hole, for some reason, that works.”

Photo © Tom Rassuchine/Banded

In Plain Sight In Plain Sight In Plain Sight In Plain Sight In Plain Sight

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5 | In Plain Sight

In many areas, ducks don’t have to be secretive. They roost and loaf on open-water patches created by hydroelectric dams, municipal water discharges and other man-made situations. Often, these areas are within municipal limits, where hunting isn’t allowed. Obviously, the key to hunting those ducks is to discover whether they’re feeding at huntable spots, such as dry fields, flooded crop fields or similar areas.

You can spend lots of time and effort trying to follow these “city ducks” to a huntable area, and not every expedition bears fruit. However, it’s often the only way to identify any opportunity with such birds.

Divers might offer more chances. Even if they prefer to sit in protected open water, they’ll likely get up and stretch their wings throughout the day. Setting up at huntable spots nearby might allow some pass-shooting or, if you break ice or find open water, decoy hunting.

Photo © Ihi/Shutterstock

January DaysJanuary DaysJanuary DaysJanuary DaysJanuary Days

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6 | January Days

Not to fall back on a cliché, but January ducks are where you find them. And with only days left in the season, what are you waiting for? Get out there and make your late-season dreams reality.

Photo © Bill Konway