The alarm clock was set only as a formality, as there was no doubt that I would be awake long before it ever went off.
It was late October and my hunting buddy and I were about to embark on a diver duck hunt that had the potential to be one that dreams are made of. The area was scouted the previous day and wave upon wave of ringnecks and buffleheads poured into a bay known to locals as the “Master Pit”
The Master Pit has rewarded me several times in years past, especially during bumper crop years of wild rice. In addition to having an ample food source, the bay is also protected which makes it the ideal retreat for Northern ducks making their way South.
As we arrived at the lake’s landing, a steady North wind could be felt which had the unmistakable bite that waterfowlers crave.
The boat was launched and we made our way under the cover of an icy darkness with navigation only being assisted by a full harvest moon and the gentle hum of the outboard motor. Every so often, we caught the glimpse of shimmering wings on the water’s surface as ducks took off from their roosting slumber in front of us. Needless to say, the anticipation was building.
The decoys were placed and the boat was nestled in the cattails for concealment…all there was left to do was wait for legal light.
As we sat in total darkness and the skies began to lighten, the unmistakable swoosh could be heard. There is no sound that replicates: cupped wings on frigid air in the fall; the sound is reminiscent to an F-18 buzzing the tower and never fails to make the hair rise on the back of my neck!!
It didn’t take long before the first flock appeared on the horizon. A few purrs on the call and a nice flock of ringnecks turned towards the spread and came in on a rope. 60 yards, 50 yards, 40 yards, 30 yards, 20 yards…take em!!!
The morning silence was shattered as a volley of steel was sent skyward. In the aftermath, a couple beautiful drakes floated among the dekes as several steaming hulls lay in the bottom of the boat, filling the air with the thick odor of burnt gunpowder.
The scene was duplicated on several occasions that morning and we ended up going home with a mixed bag of fat Northern ringnecks and buffleheads for our efforts.
There are a couple key things to remember if you want to increase the amount of ammunition you purchase this fall:
The single most important thing to remember when it comes to waterfowl hunting is scouting. Waterfowl hunting is akin to real estate, in that it’s all about location, location, location!! A hunter can have the latest and greatest gear when it comes to decoys, camouflage, shotgun and ammunition, however it is all futile if there are no birds in the area. Being where the birds want to be is what we call being on “the X” and usually provides a hunt that is logged in the memory book for years to come.
For every hour spent actually sitting in the blind, I would guess another 5 hours are spent at the tiller of the boat, putting on miles in search of our quarry. There are areas that migrating birds traditionally use, however they all have the same characteristics. Wild rice is the primary food source in my area and will attract ducks like a moth to a flame. The best areas are also off the beaten path, offering ducks a quiet resting place away from other hunters and boat traffic.
The availability of topographic maps and satellite imagery offer great starting points, however they cannot be replaced with actually getting out into the field.
We live in a technological era and it seems that everything outdoor related has become very technical; waterfowl hunting is no different. For a newcomer to the sport, just walking through an outdoor store can become overwhelming with all the options with respect to gear.
I can tell you that when I started hunting at 14 years old, dad and I had a dozen and a half decoys, a skiff with a bunch of burlap and I donned my trusty Remington 870 Express shotgun. That’s right…no fancy autoloader shotgun, high end motion decoys or camouflage john boat. And you know what? We saw plenty of birds and got in plenty of shooting; likely because I knew early on the importance of scouting!!
Once birds are located, select a blind location where the ducks can approach into the wind. There are countless patterns with respect to placing decoys, just make sure that you leave a landing zone. The opening should be well within range, as most shots will come as the ducks make their approach to land. True waterfowl hunters have great respect for their quarry and will never shoot at a bird unless it is on the wing, so do not let the birds land. The only exception here is to dispatch a crippled bird.
Ensure that both the boat and hunters are concealed. Typically, hunters will sit in a blind on shore with the boat hidden or hunt from a boat that is hidden. The sky is the limit when it comes to concealment and is only hindered by one’s imagination. I prefer to use what Mother Nature provides and what is readily available. The main objective here is to avoid being detected first and believe me when I say that if the birds are seeing you, they will let you know in a hurry. When the birds are approaching only to flare 100 yards out, chances are you’ve been busted. The culprit could be anything from a shiny gun barrel, boat gunnels, or movement from anxious hunters. Flaring birds give hunters immediate feedback that something isn’t right and an adjustment is in order.
When it comes to calling birds, I’m of the opinion that a bad caller is much worse than no calling at all. Calling takes minutes to learn, especially through online videos, however it takes a lifetime to master. The important thing to remember is to have fun with it and not be discouraged when mistakes are made. That being said, if every flock of approaching birds are flying to the opposite county to avoid the music you’re playing, it may be a good time to leave the call in your pocket…ask me how I know!!
Waterfowl hunting is as rich in tradition as the ritual of ducks migrating to their winter retreats. I can honestly say that I have never spent a bad day in the marsh and any true duck hunter will admit that the success of a hunt is never measured in terms of the number of ducks brought home. Not every hunt will produce bag limits, but the memories made are what stay with you. To this day after an unexplainable miss, I always think to myself “they sure fly pretty”!
Fall is a special time to be on the water or in the woods and experiencing a waterfowl hunt is by far my favorite way to soak up the experience as we have the privilege of witnessing the colors of gold, crimson and orange saturate the landscape and transcend the lush greenery of summer. Before you know it, North winds sweep the last leaves to the ground and the honks of migrating geese fade into silence, drawing the season to a close. Make time this fall to get out with family and friends to make enough memories to carry you through to the next season.
Play safe and see ya on the water!