Late Season Duck Hunting Tactics
The days are getting longer, and in between the bursts of frigid air and snow, some days lately when it has warmed up into the 50’s here in Colorado it feels like spring is on the way. I know we still have our snowiest months ahead of us, but I just can’t help feeling like spring isn’t too far away. But before I let go of winter, there is one weekend left of duck hunting, and three weeks left of goose hunting.
Late season duck hunting is often perceived as one of the toughest times to hunt ducks; the birds have been called to and shot at since September, they have seen every imaginable decoy spread, and they have developed a high awareness of moving objects on the ground that appear from the air to be moving bushes. But in actuality there are many reasons to get out for a late season hunt, and you can be quite successful if you follow a few tips.
First of all, many of the waterfowl hunters have already hung up their waders for the season, so there will be less competition in the field or on the water. It’s usually only the die-hards that are still out hunting this late in the season, and they typically know what they are doing, which means less human disturbance or alarming behavior for the birds to observe. In most cases, more public land is available later in the season, so you will find more opportunities to hunt some of the places that may not have been available in the earlier months.
An important fact to keep in mind for late season hunting is that ducks will most likely have paired up by now with their mates, and you need to change your tactics. When ducks have paired it means much smaller flocks, or even braces (two ducks) flying alone. To adjust my strategy, the first thing I look for is small areas of water tucked away in marshy areas or surrounded by thick brush. It is important to pay attention to the weather though since these shallow, small pockets of water freeze up faster than a larger body of water or a flowing river. If the weather warms up and these small bodies of water thaw, they are prime locations for 2 – 6 ducks to spend their time, often coming in for a landing without even circling. If I can’t find an unfrozen small pond then I look for a lazy bend in a river that is protected by heavy brush on the banks.
Late season duck hunting means less of everything; less decoys, less calling, and no bulky blinds. I will put out four decoys; two hens and two drakes paired together and about ten yards apart to simulate what is actually going on this time of year. I anchor both pairs near each other, and I tie one hen’s anchor line to her drake partner’s line, and then attach a pull string to the drake so I can create some action on the water with subtle tugs that will cause them both to move. I will call aggressively until I get the ducks’ attention, and then I will be silent and let the decoys do the work. At that point I don’t do any more calling at all.
As far as a blind, I don’t use one this time of year. I use the natural cover as best as I can, and I find a good hiding spot within range of my small spread. By this time of year the ducks, which have excellent eye sight, have seen many, many blinds. I prefer to wear my camouflage waders, coat, gloves, and hat, with face paint or a camo face net. I always bring some paracord that I can use to help make an improvised blind, sometimes just bending some brush and tying it together makes a sufficient hiding spot.
Hunting with minimal gear also allows me to move around quite easily if I am not having success in a particular area. I especially like hunting a slow moving river in this manner; it is quite different than putting out a huge spread of decoys and an elaborate blind. While I love blind hunting, I actually like this method of duck hunting even better; it is just more adventurous to be able to move around to different areas if I need to.
While the bird seasons are winding down, there’s still a little bit of time left for a few hunts. As the end of bird season means spring is not too far away, my mind is already on spring turkey hunting, and I’ll get out soon to start scouting for them. Until then, I will likely do some ice fishing to pass the last couple of months of winter. I hope you all get a chance to get out at least one more time for a chance at some waterfowl, and hopefully these tips will bring you success!