Kenneth Kieser: Portable waterfowl hunting is an affordable option
Many hunters are on a budget. They would love to hunt ducks at the upper-end hunting clubs, but cannot afford it and maybe never will. I hunted ducks in my younger years while barely making enough money to pay the rent or buy groceries.
Portable waterfowl hunting became an enjoyable outing while providing plenty of duck or goose breasts for our dinners. This was the beginning of my becoming a waterfowl opportunist.
We learned to scout out quiet spots behind dikes on the Missouri or Mississippi River and quickly discovered where the sand was firm enough for wading in knee-high boots. We found garage sales and going out of business sales where duck decoys were inexpensive. Soon we had an impressive set, with the aid of a little decoy painting.
Decoy anchor line was added from the local hardware store. I found mold at another sale for pouring decoy lead weights, simple enough and practically free after a visit to the junk yard where tubs of lead waited for us.
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. We learned to limit calling to a few quacks and feeder chuckles with moderate success. We did not have a dog and limited our shots over the still water. The river current would quickly pull our ducks downriver.
Find the Ducks: Finding migrating ducks is easy with topographical maps. Ask your local game and fish department to suggest duck or goose hunting locations. Make sure you are scouting close to well-used waterfowl flyways and use your imagination to find productive spots while remembering to be exactly where the waterfowl want to go. Here are a few suggestions:
Big Rivers: Modern hunters watch waterfowl patterns and set up on sand bars. Hunters use aluminum John boats loaded with dozens of oversized decoys for ducks and geese. Do not ever try wading in a river, the bottom is ever changing and often dangerous. Modern hunters use heavy John boats with large engines to fight the strong currents and steel props that are less likely to shear off when running into submerged river debris.
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: Oxbows are shallow lakes that were once part of a big river Check topographical maps or ask your local conservation department 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.
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.
Ponds: I recently drove past a quarter-acre pond that was covered with Canada geese. This is common, especially on ponds where hunting is never done, so make sure you first ask permission to hunt. Ironically, there are public hunting area ponds that are isolated and filled with waterfowl but never hunted. You just have to find this hunting mecca.
Grass Fields or Winter Wheat: Grass fields or winter wheat on southern exposures tend to draw in geese on a cold day to soak up the warmth of the sun. A few well-placed decoys and adequate calling will often bring the geese in to land without many cautionary circles to scan for danger. Ask permission to hunt and you might be surprised how many farmers will welcome you. Geese tend to pluck out a lot of valuable winter wheat shoots.
Flooded Crops: During a wet year, fields of crops by flooded rivers are duck magnets. An old friend once found a hundred-acre cornfield standing in about three feet of flood water. Scout out flooded row crops and you will likely find waterfowl. They love to find easy meals in areas where they can eat, drink and rest in peace.
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.
Camouflage netting, portable blinds that fold up to fit in a boat and 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 pick apples, resulting in a great deer hunt. Ask landowners where their livestock is located before starting a hunt. 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.
– 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.