Through the “duck slump” of the 1980s, I know a lot of waterfowl hunters who locked their shotguns in the gun safe and gave up the sport.
But because of good conditions for nesting in recent years, and outstanding management by U.S. and Canadian wildlife agencies, many are taking it back up again. Both duck and goose numbers have risen and are holding steady.
If you need a refresher course, or are thinking of trying waterfowl hunting for the first time, the following are probably the two most important components that go in to composing a memorable hunt.
Scouting is probably the number-one most significant detail towards success—not only for waterfowl but when hunting anything. You need to know the birds are there, if and when they’ll be back, where they are roosting, where they are feeding, and anything else you can discover to put you closer to more birds.
Road work or leg work is your first step. For ducks, it may mean looking at a map and going from pot-hole to slew to marsh to find the best spot. For geese, I’ve gone as far as following a flock of honkers—by car—for miles to find out where they were feeding.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a specific spot, a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope is going to be your most important tool. When scouting ducks over water, you want to find out which fly routes they favour with that particular wind. Then search out the best cover along their favourite routes for your set-up.
You could go out and set your decoys anywhere and hope for the best but why make it difficult? It’s much easier to decoy ducks into a spot that they’re already comfortable with.
When scouting geese for field hunting, you want to know the exact spot they are feeding. That’s where you want to be. But be careful not to spook the birds before you hunt the field. Let them leave on their own and then make your set-up.
The other important aspect to consider is “set-up,” includes position, concealment, and decoy placement. Concerning position, as stated, you want to be in the exact spot the geese favoured in the field or the exact spot the ducks were buzzing over the marsh.
When goose hunting, some experts say you shouldn’t lay among your decoys. I disagree. With proper camouflage, you can easily get away with it—and that’s where your best shooting is going to come from.
Concealment is very important when hunting waterfowl because their eyesight is among the keenest. Choosing the proper camo is your first step. The most effective I’ve found for marsh, slew, or field is Mossy Oak’s Shadow Grass. It’s versatile and does a very good job at breaking up the human form.
Cover up your face and hands. If you’re not wearing face paint or a face mask, don’t let the birds get a full view of your glowing face. Peak at them under the brim of your hat or through some camo netting until you’re ready for the shot. If you wear glasses, pay heed to the glare off of your lenses.
It also may be a good idea to dig a pit or create a blind. When field hunting, and laying among your decoys, a piece of camo netting to cover up with may help. Another “cool tool” is a Stearns Mad Dog Self-Inflating Ground Pad, which keeps you off the cold ground and keeps your head raised while laying on your back.
This way your neck isn’t straining while watching approaching birds.
Decoy placement is something many hunters do not understand. My best advice here is to spend some time watching real ducks and geese. Some hunters will take their decoys and scatter them all over a given area. It depends on whether the birds are resting or feeding as to how decoys should be placed.
Are you hunting water or a field? When hunting ducks, are you hunting divers or puddlers? Each can make a difference.
If you pay attention, you’ll notice in most situations, ducks or geese aren’t spread out over a huge area. And if they are, they’ll be random tighter groups. Real birds are usually grouped tighter than most people place their decoys.
When placing goose decoys for field hunting, there are some experts that will tell you to face them all strictly into the wind. I do agree with that somewhat but watch a flock of geese feed sometime. They may be facing every which way.
I like to place goose decoys in random groups and vary the position. It seems the stronger the wind, the more you want to adhere to facing them into it.
One of the most important technicalities, whether it’s duck or goose decoy set-up, is the need to leave a landing zone. You must leave sufficient space with easy access for the birds to land. If you just want them to buzz your set-up, then don’t worry, but there’s nothing like shooting at close birds that are truly decoying.
My absolute favourite decoys, whether hunting water or land, are Feather Flex Decoys. First, because of just that, I can use the same decoys for either field or water hunting. They are tough foam floating shells and won’t break, crack, and sink. They have an extremely realistic appearance and I can carry eight dozen of their Magnum Mallards by myself along with all my other gear.
With traditional decoys, that’s three trips to and from your vehicle. I’ve had great luck with both their duck and goose decoys.
Once you get them close, it’s up to you to make the shot. Guns, chokes, and loads will vary with each hunter you talk to. For 80 percent of my waterfowl hunting, I use a Remington Special Purpose 10 gauge. Why? Because when I pull the trigger, birds fold. This gun produces great results for me.
From mallards to giant honkers, from opening day to late season, I rarely change from an improved cylinder and Nitro Steel 2 shot. If I’m hunting teal or “woodies,” then I break out the 12-gauge. This 10-gauge auto actually kicks less than my 12-gauge pump—and I spend less money in ammo because I hit what I’m shooting at.
Locate the birds, find the exact spot, make your set-up, set your decoys and leave a landing zone, then wait for the fun. There are other factors that help make your hunt a success but scouting and set-up are two of the most important.