The importance of scouting for goose or duck hunting can’t be over stated, it is the first key to success. If you already have your established hunting spot, on either private or public land, then good for you, the most important step of your hunting is taken care of. But for many people, whether they are beginners or simply don’t have an established hunting spot, the task of scouting is the first step in a successful waterfowl hunting season.
When I moved to Colorado in 1983, I was completely new to the state, and I had no idea where to begin hunting. Back then I started my research with maps of land along the South Platte River, since I could at least recognize that as good hunting grounds. These days there is an enormous amount of information on the internet about finding places to hunt. I know the Colorado Parks and Wildlife organization provides a wealth of information in so many areas of outdoor activities, it’s amazing! Check out your state’s division of wildlife website, that is a good place to begin your research.
When I am looking for hunting areas, first I look for habitat that would attract waterfowl. A slow, meandering river with nearby ponds and nearby crop fields is my favorite place to hunt. The second thing I look for is seclusion. If the area is very easy to get to, then a lot of people will probably go there. I look for areas a little farther away from large metropolitan areas, and then I look for areas that may be difficult to access, such as a long dirt road that may discourage the not-so-stout bird hunters in their little sedans who only go out once or twice a year.
Pick a few good areas to hunt, you always want to have options. A month or so ahead of the hunting season, spend a weekend to drive out to see these areas and the areas surrounding the public land. Get out and walk around, look for signs of heavy human usage, or indicators that the place might draw a lot of hunters. A bird cleaning station and trash cans are good indicators that the area draws a lot of hunters, which I like to avoid. Even if you see this, still observe the area and look for why it might be a good hunting spot. Observe the vegetation, the trees, the water, and the surrounding area; you will learn something from what you see.
Once you find a spot that you like, explore it. Picture where you will set up your decoys and blind. Imagine yourself coming there in pitch black darkness and how you will find where to set up. Look for landmarks that you will be able to see with a flashlight, like large downed trees, unique looking stumps, gullies in the landscape, or whatever you can find. Try to study the area as much as possible, paying special attention to the cardinal directions and flow of the river. After exploring this spot, try to find another one close by and do the same thing.
The last tip in this post is to look for farm houses anywhere near these spots you have chosen. If you see farm areas nearby, you can always go to the farm house and ask for permission to hunt there in the coming season. What is critical to success when asking for permission to hunt is first of all being extremely polite and courteous. Don’t go up to a farm house too early or too late in the day (for a farmer, an hour after dark is too late), or during meal times. As you approach a farm house in your vehicle, drive slowly and keep your eyes open for farm animals, dogs, or cats. If you run over the house cat on the way there, you can probably guess what the farmer is going to say, if you even have the nerve to ask after doing that. If you are bringing a youngster to hunt with you, always have them accompany you to the house, don’t have them wait in the truck.
Above all else, when you meet with the landowner, exhibit your best manners. Introduce yourself and ask how he/she is doing today, don’t just jump right in and say “Can I hunt on your land?” Try to start a conversation, explain what you are doing in the area, and then ease into the asking part. Offer at that moment that you would be happy to share any game with land owner, or, if you are willing, that you would even help out around the farm for a weekend or two to gain that access. Don’t offer money, which could be insulting, unless the landowner suggests it first.
Good luck with your scouting, you can never start too early!