Simple Tips for Big Birds

Those cold winds of fall have begun to blow across the Dakotas, bringing with them the first migrating flocks of mallards and Canada geese from the north. And when the wheels of the migration are turning, every day can bring opportunities to hunt these big birds over decoys, but there are challenges to hunting this time of the season as well.

As the saying goes, “life is in the details,” and the same can be said for hunting late season ducks and geese. By paying attention to the small things, you can put more birds in the decoys this fall. 

Here are three ways to get it done:

Patient Scouting

Hunting the first migrating waterfowl of fall can make for excellent gunning over the decoys, but as exciting as it can be to see fresh birds on the wing while scouting, ducks and geese that are new to an area will sometimes change feeding patterns rather abruptly, making your scouting all that more important.

If you can spare the time, wait another day to hunt birds that are hitting a field, especially if you suspect that they are new to your area. See them in there again the next morning or afternoon? You know you’ve got a pattern worth hunting.

Make Some Motion

If given the choice of bringing either a duck or goose call to the field or some form of motion, i.e. flag, jerk-string, spinning wing decoy to the field, hunters should think long and hard about choosing the motion over the noise. There is simply is no understating how important movement is to a decoy spread for both mallards and Canada geese.

While spinning wing decoys get a lot of attention, the best bang for you buck in terms of motion in a decoy spread is a jerk string rig, like the one available from Rig ‘em Right. With a pull of a string, you create motion on the surface of the water that brings life to decoys on windless days and creates the illusion of a content, active flock of ducks.

In terms of when to use a jerk string, you can basically follow the same rule used for a goose flag: the further away the birds are, the more motion you can and should use. As the birds get closer, the use of the flag should be toned down to mimic a bird landing – starting high and pumping the wings all the way down to the ground.

When birds are close, hunters tend to put the flag down and for good reason – too much motion can send birds flaring the other way. But short bursts of motion close to the ground – similar to a goose stretching its wings – can be just the ticket to grab the attention geese that are thinking of sliding to the side or stopping short.

Keeping It Real

Every successful waterfowl hunter, whether he thinks about it or it not, is a keen observer of the birds he hunts. Keying in on the dipping of wings at the sound of a particular note from the call or identifying a pattern between roost and feed and staging pond – hunters know that by watching the birds closely, looking for small cues to their behavior, they’re more likely to see them feet-down over the decoys.

As the fall progresses, more often than not, a hunter is battling cold, wind and snow – conditions that call you to pay attention to the details, as the changes in weather often prompt changes in bird behavior.

When things get cold, geese in particular like to get cozy; landing almost on top of each other to get down and eat. Unlike early season hunts where decoys can be spread out, a honker hunt in the cold should feature a tighter packed spread with a landing area tight to the main body of decoys. If there is snow on the ground, geese will concentrate even more, some even lying down on the ground – a perfect time to use shell decoys or remove the bases on full-bodied decoys.

A windy day will often find both ducks and geese seeking out areas in the field that are protected – low-lying areas or impressions behind hills or on the leeward side of a hill or other landform.

Small changes in both situations, but significant pieces of the puzzle that will help you keep your decoy spreads realistic and stay one step ahead of those late season birds.