Duck and goose season are here. Many of you can’t afford this sport, or can you? Here are some tips for an economical hunt.
The best duck or goose hunting can require being an opportunist. During my youth we learned to scout out quiet spots behind dikes on the Missouri River and quickly discovered where the sand was firm enough for wading in knee-high boots. We fashioned a blind out of reeds, driftwood and other existing cover. The ducks quickly found our decoys and circled while we made our best sounds on Faulks and Lohman wooden duck calls.
The hard part was walking several miles every morning with decoys in gunny sacks, shotguns, shells, snacks and water. We tried to make this walk once going in and once going out with all equipment and ducks tied on ropes around our waists. That trek would probably kill me today, so make sure you are in shape before walking long distances covered in equipment.
Finding ducks in unexpected places is easy with topographical maps or ask your local game and fish department to suggest duck or goose hunting locations.
Here are some ideas:
Big Rivers: Modern hunters watch waterfowl patterns and set up in the still waters – like we did in 1971. The difference is we had to walk in, where now hunters use aluminum boats loaded with dozens of oversized duck and goose decoys.
Small Rivers: Small rivers are often overlooked and natural spots where ducks stack up and rest. Tributaries off big rivers or even waterways that connect to bigger lake spillways tend to draw ducks.
Oxbows: Check topographical maps or ask your local conservation department about where to find oxbow lakes that might provide duck or goose hunting. Many are already hunted, although big river conditions can change the best oxbow hunting spots as we found out.
Oxbows are shallow lakes that were once part of a big river. Big rivers tended to change course, land locking the shallow lakes. Oxbows may be large or pond sized and excellent spots for waterfowl.
River Bottom Land: Make long drives throughout river-bottom land with good binoculars. You will be amazed at the amount of ducks and geese you’ll see feeding throughout the day, especially before bad weather moves in.
Find out who owns the property and ask permission to hunt. Set out decoys where the ducks or geese were feeding next morning before daylight and wait. Chances are the waterfowl will return.
Isolated Spots in Big Lakes: Many years ago, I traveled through shallow water in a small boat loaded with decoys, two dogs, shotguns and two other hunters. They were maneuvering between trees in dark flooded timber to a grove that had been undiscovered by the crowds on the well-hunted lake. By morning I realized that no other humans were close and the place was crawling with ducks and cottonmouth snakes. Ironically few shots were heard on the main section of the lake where hunting pressure was heavy.
Ponds: You might be surprised how many ducks or geese will draw to a small pond close to hunting hotspots. Danny Guyer, owner of Iron Duck Hunting Guide Service, goose hunts a half-acre pond with great late season success. Few know where this pond is located because it is well hidden.
“The geese eventually get tired of listening to countless goose calls and find a quiet spot,” Guyer said. “We set out dozens of floaters and shell decoys with a healthy mix of Big Foot versions. A combination of good calling and adequate decoy sets bring in geese throughout the day.”
Grass Fields or Winter Wheat: We recently sat in a duck blind and watched geese landing in a strip of green grass across the lake. Younger hunters in the blind noticed this too and set out the following morning with big bags of decoys and other equipment – God bless those young legs. They were in the small field before sunup and had limited out a half hour after legal shooting time opened.
Flooded Crops: During a wet year, fields of crops by flooded rivers are duck magnets. An old friend once found a 100-acre cornfield standing in about 3 feet of floodwater. He slipped in the corn rows and quickly limited out on ducks and geese. There was no need for decoys, just patience while mallards and two Canada geese almost landed on his head.
Technique: Hiding on a portable hunt is easy as binging camouflage netting. The trick is to blend in with your surroundings and avoid any kind of movement.
Equipment: You are living in the day and age of layout blinds, four-wheel-drive off road vehicles that allow decoys to be carried over rough terrain and many other luxuries that make this type of hunt easier.
A good pair of binoculars makes scouting easier, especially when searching out fields from your car. Motorized vehicles will take you deep in swamp areas, but walking is a quieter way to scout.
A good pair of waders is required. Some backwaters require wading where boat access is impossible. A “posterior” pad is more than welcome, especially when sitting on the ground. Five-gallon plastic buckets will work in a pinch when standard shooting seats are not available.
Camouflaged netting, portable blinds that fold up to fit in a boat and decoys bags with shoulder straps for transporting decoys are a must for this kind of hunting. A strap on your shotgun is essential too.
Asking Permission: Remember to be polite and helpful. I once stopped to help a farmer picking apples, resulting in a great hunt. Ask landowners where their livestock is located before starting a hunt. Make sure you avoid driving over crops by asking where they would prefer you drive. Offer them dressed-out ducks or geese when the hunt is over. Make sure you leave their property as you found it and pick up any trash, even if it is not yours. Do you want to hunt their property again? Then take a care package during the offseason so they will remember you.
Finally, remember to only do what your physical condition will allow and always ask permission for access on private lands. Check each area’s regulations to make sure you can legally hunt.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.