Mapping Out Your Float-Hunt for Ducks

Tips, Techniques, Approaches and Hotspots for Moving Water

Map It Out, Time it Right, Plan it Up

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1 | Map It Out, Time it Right, Plan it Up

In this age of digital mapping and sharp satellite photography at your fingertips, there’s no reason to go in blind when putting paddle to water. Taking a look at the theater for your float-hunt is as easy as going on to Google Maps’ satellite view (or other digital mapping tool) and tracing the path of your downstream float. Take printouts with you. Focus on curves, bends, points, corners and other changes that offer ducks the eddies and slack water they like — and afford you viable approaches to surprise them. Know what’s coming and where that “structure” is, and then use it. The more your stream winds, the better.

Do homework beyond checking out satellite views and printing out maps. Choose a time when ducks will be in and using moving water. Early-season wood ducks, teal, wigeon and mallards readily use creeks, streams and rivers — especially when hunting pressure has pushed those locals off more traditional water. Try a mid-week hunt after opening weekend. Mid-season migrating birds will use creeks and streams as rest havens and stopovers. During the late season, look to open rivers and spring creeks that afford ducks the only open water. No matter the time of season, get out and glass for flying ducks, or call local contacts (game wardens, postal drivers, hunting guides, sporting goods stores) and ask what they’re seeing.

Most float-hunts require military-like planning precision. But it’s fun. And good planning makes for a good day. Hunt with a partner. Drive two vehicles, leaving one at the take-out point and driving together upstream to your put-in spot. Better, both of you go to the put-in spot with one vehicle and meet with a local friend or acquaintance you hire, who will then shuttle your vehicle to the take-out point for you.

Photo © Ivan Protsiuk/Shutterstock

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Play it Safe, Keep it Quiet, Make a Blind

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2 | Play it Safe, Keep it Quiet, Make a Blind

Hunt with a partner for hunting effectiveness and safety. One person propels and steers from the back of the vessel (usually a boat or canoe). The other hunter kneels or sits up front, ready to shoot flushed ducks, only taking shots in a 180-degree arc out front for safety. Trade off steering and shooting duties after each shot opportunity.

It’s amazing how well ducks hear. Silence is critical to your element of surprise. Here’s an old but highly effective trick: Put rugs in the bottom of the boat or canoe to deaden inadvertent clunks or thunks. Communicate only with whispers and hand signals, and keep your hands low.

Build a light frame, add chicken wire, and then weave in brush and grass to mount a blind at the front of your boat or canoe. It’s better that ducks see a blob of brush coming at them than a couple of crouching, sneaky-looking human figures.

Photo © Evgenii Spiridonov/Shutterstock

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Hug the Inside, Work the Cover, Jump Backwaters, Look for Stream Mouths, Take a Side Channel

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3 | Hug the Inside, Work the Cover, Jump Backwaters, Look for Stream Mouths, Take a Side Channel

Floating and hoping is not a strategy. Instead, hug the inside edges of the bank as you approach a bend. Come around the corner as close to shore as possible to hold off revealing yourself to ducks in the downstream pocket until the last second. Ducks hold in secluded slack-water areas out of the current. The front hunter should be at port arms and ready to swing on flushing ducks. After hunting a bend, cross over and start hugging the other shore to prepare for the next turn.

Sneak up on logjams and downed trees that jut out from the bank. Ducks like to hide right in cover in the eddies behind these obstructions. Brush the edges of overhanging grasses and bushes. Wood ducks especially like to tuck back into cover and might otherwise let you float on pass. While float-hunting, stay low to reduce your profiles. Rise to shoot only when ducks flush. Use an improved-cylinder choke and Nos. 3 to 4 steel loads, as most shots will be less than 30 yards.

If your digital scouting revealed backwater ponds, oxbow sloughs or small potholes near the waterway but not navigable from it, beach your craft, and conduct a sneak to the detached water and jump-shoot it. That’s a better plan than being so close and just floating on past a potential honey hole. Plus, it gives you a chance to get out, stretch your legs and extend the hunting day a bit.

The area around the confluence with a smaller stream or creek offers prime holding water for ducks, as there is usually a strong backwash and significant eddy in such spots. If you flush a flock of ducks, it might be worth throwing out a few decoys you stashed in a corner of the boat or canoe, beaching it, making a hide and seeing if a few birds return to their sanctuary.

On bigger rivers, always work to take the road less travelled. One of the best examples of this is a side channel. These paces usually feature slower water and more cover than the main channel, so they make perfect hideouts for ducks — especially woodies.

Above all, take the pressure off, and have fun. As a bonus, float-hunts are best conducted from mid-morning through late afternoon, when ducks have settled in for the day after feeding or getting pushed off other waters — a nice break from the pre-dawn drill associated with most duck hunting. So sleep in a little. Beach your craft, and relax for a shore lunch. Shoot a squirrel if the season’s open. Throw in a fishing rod.

Photo © V. Belov/Shutterstock

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An autumn ride in a boat or canoe is nice. Shooting ducks along the way is better. To do it requires a little planning and a lot of strategy. Sure, there’s some luck involved, too. Are there even ducks there? You can control that by choosing the right stretch of creek, stream or river — and time of season — to hunt.

So push us off, climb in and click through Realtree guide to float-hunting success on ducks.

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