Every year as fall approaches, Mallards, Canvasbacks, Teal, and many other types of ducks and geese start making their annual winter migration. During the migration huge flocks form and will spend the nights resting in quiet bays on lakes from Northern Canada all the way to the Southern United States.
Some flocks can be enormous while others are smaller with 50 or so, either way duck hunting is a great way to spend an early morning for novices who want to learn the art of shotgun hunting before moving into the woods for upland game birds. It is also a fun way for experienced hunters to spend some action packed time in the outdoors during one of the most beautiful seasons.
Duck hunting starts years in advance of your hunt. Most of the time ducks follow the exact same route for their migration. By paddling a canoe in the back lakes during a late summer cruise or drifting by while autumn fishing, watch in the quiet bays for ducks feeding or swimming and make note of how many you saw and at what time of year you saw them.
Year after year you will notice the ducks and geese return to the exact same bays. Look in bays that are very shallow, perhaps only a foot or two deep. Many types of ducks feed off the bottom of the lake by tipping themselves down to eat then bobbing back up. Try also to find bays with a bit of wind; ducks use the wind to take flight so a nice cross breeze makes them feel more comfortable knowing they can lift off at the first sign of danger.
Once you are certain the ducks will be back to your bay (and that they will be legal to hunt) it is time to start building a duck blind. A duck blind is a simple, natural looking structure that hides you from the flock’s view. A well built blind will break up the outline of your body and mask movements such as picking up your gun, reloading, or even just reaching for your call.
Camouflage clothing helps conceal your presence as well, but a blind is still necessary to keep your movement hidden. Ducks are very skittish and if one senses danger they will all take off leaving you empty handed. Please read the article building duck blinds for more information on how to make one for yourself.
Late afternoon the day before the hunt, gather up your decoys and set them out in the water in front of your blind. The decoys should be located within the shooting range of your gun roughly 25 yards in front of the duck blind. Use decoys that resemble the ducks you will be hunting. The actual number of decoys you use will depend on the size of the area you are hunting, but about twenty decoys is a good number to start with. Ducks and geese are very wary of strange activity or differences in the areas they rest in so work quietly when putting out your decoys and when making your way into the blind before dawn on the morning of your hunt. Ducks congregate with other ducks so your decoys will help to attract other flocks which are flying over.
Once you see ducks start flying by your blind, use a duck call to call out to them. Many different styles and sounding calls can be purchased. Try to have a couple different calls with you to add a natural sound of several ducks rather than just one. Don’t over do the calling and practice during the off season to perfect your sound.
As ducks land near your decoys get ready to start shooting. Wait for them to settle in and slowly raise your gun. Most duck hunters use a 12 gauge shotgun with a full choke. Semi-automatics are fastest, but pump actions are also great. 20 gauge shotguns are effective as well and have less recoil making them ideal for younger or smaller sized hunters. At the first sound of a shot the ducks will likely take off but be patient, they almost always circle around and will be back in a few minutes.
When sneaking into your blind before dawn, leave your boat or canoe well away from the hunting area so as not to scare any ducks which may have joined your decoys overnight. If you are hunting from a boat behind a blind, make sure your boat is securely tied up and that no branches are going to be scraping the hull which can make unnatural noises that may cause the ducks to avoid the area entirely. Ensure the floor of your boat is clear and that you don’t stand up to shoot. The recoil from the shotgun blast can cause you to lose balance and fall over board – not something that should happen with a loaded gun in your hand.
Skeet shooting is a great way to practice for any kind of bird hunting. Over the summer, make time to visit a gun club as much as possible to familiarize yourself with your gun and to hone your shooting skills. Remember that you want to lead a flying bird and shoot just in front of it rather than directly at it.
Dogs can also be useful for swimming out and retrieving shot ducks. Spend as much time as possible training your dog so on opening day it will sit still for hours and then quickly and quietly get the ducks back to your blind. Dog training can take years to perfect so don’t rush into things and if you think Rover isn’t quite ready yet then leave him at home until next year’s hunt.
Duck hunting can be a short season depending on how long the birds decide to stay in your area, but with off season preparation and practice, the most can be made of your hunt. Hunters should also be sure to only shoot the limit they are allowed and not take more than their share ensuring many more ducks will return for years to come.
Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson