Waterfowl tips

Goose Music

Goose hunting differs from duck hunting in a lot of ways besides the size of the birds. Goose guns and loads are often bigger. Geese are more often shot over land than over water. The decoys are bigger in size and numbers and often the strategy for setting out goose decoys is very different. However, the biggest difference about goose hunting is that the goose hunter must really know the species of goose he's hunting. The three main species geese we hunt — Canadas, Snows and Speckle-Bellies (White-Fronted Geese) — have different vocabularies and habits. They also tend to more frequently hang out with and decoy to their own species. Even when feeding in the same field, you'll see each goose species more or less staying near its own kind.??Learn the habits of the goose (or geese) species you will be hunting. Set your decoys in a mixed spread appropriately. Learn and master the calls of each species for the best goose-getting success.

Putting in a Pit

Thinking about putting in a pit next year? If so, think about buying yourself a dumpster. They're already water-tight and definitely sturdy. Then you want to carefully consider where you put it. They're not easy to move.

Decoy Safety

Picking up your decoys can be the most tiring and hazardous part of your duck hunt. We place a lot of decoys by tossing them out. However, to pick them up, you have to go to each and every one, pick it up, wrap the anchor cord and carry it back to a collection point. That's a lot of wading about or maneuvering the boat, leaning over, etc.?Don't get so focused on picking up the decoys or in such a hurry that you fail to be cautious. Watch where you're wading; you may have tossed a decoy over a deep spot.?Use a wading staff, preferably one with a small hook on it to reach out an pick up decoys in difficult places. Use that same staff, or a longer one with a hook, from the boat to avoid having to lean over the gunnel. Some boat hunters cut a small notch in a boat paddle to help them snag decoy lines.

Be a Duck Locator

The easiest way to successfully call ducks and geese is to set up where they want to land. This requires scouting. Spending lots of time watching birds with binoculars pays dividends when you go to shoot. In every marsh or swamp there are favored "duck holes." Some remain the same all season long and sometimes year after year. Others may change as the season progresses. For consistent success you should know which is which and where they are. Having several promising areas is good insurance. Field feeding geese can be troublesome because they follow the abundance of fresh food. Snow geese are particularly bad about changing feeding locations on short notice. When you find a favored feeding spot, get on it quickly, while it is still hot. I have several portable blinds that I use to keep up with current waterfowl usage patterns and to avoid over-shooting a good spot. Even a perennial hot spot can be cooled off by constant shooting.

Duck Soup

I like to cook wild game. There's something about a well-roasted duck on a bed of wild rice with all the trimmings that satisfies both my creative and gastric urges. There are a host of good recipes in game cookbooks but if you are going to roast the traditional way, it is better to pluck the bird. Skinned birds need considerable larding and basting to stay moist in the oven or on the grill. A very simple and tasty way to cook duck is to fillet out the breast meat and separate it into its four natural parts, then tenderize (pound), season and pan fry just as you would a steak. With some of the stronger tasting waterfowl, such as snow geese, fillet out the meat, mix with equal parts pork, grind and apply your favorite smoked sausage recipe. You will be amazed. There's not much munching on a duck leg. However, save the legs of several birds and crockpot them for some fine morsels of good eating.

Top Cover

Top cover for your blind can be very annoying. It restricts your vision and can be difficult to swing and shoot through. Nevertheless, it is necessary for wary ducks. The more wary they become, the more top cover you need. Circling ducks can look straight down at you, which is a view deer and turkeys seldom get. You still need to wear your personal camouflage and make sure all items in the blind are camouflaged. This includes coolers, blind bags, gun cases and other gear. Often well-camouflaged hunters will sit brightly colored shotshell boxes out in the open, forgetting that ducks can see them and may flare. I think a facemask and gloves are very helpful. In particular, the camo mask allows you to look up and keep track of circling birds. I use two types of masks. For early season or mild weather shooting I use mesh masks and gloves. In cold weather, I wear a warm full-coverage facemask and insulated camo gloves.

Timber Shooting

The green timber shooting of eastern Arkansas and other areas in the southern Mississippi Drainage area are justly famous. It is productive and it is fun. However, it is almost as much fun to watch waterfowlers from other areas try it for the first time. This type of hunting requires a good bit of loud calling and relatively few decoys. In fact, many experienced hunters use none at all or at most two or three. Good thing too, because timber shooting often requires a long trek in to a good spot. The ducks drop in through holes in the tree canopy, often without warning to waiting hunters. The ducks are just suddenly there among the shooters. It is fast, in-your-face action and when the shooting starts the ducks are no slouches at dodging through the trees. Ranges are usually short and I prefer rather light shot. Don't handicap yourself with too much choke. A wide pattern yields better results on these quick and fast-moving targets.

Decoy Spreads

Many decoy spread patterns are written about, but I'm not sure ducks can read. The particular decoy pattern doesn't matter nearly so much as understanding the overall dynamics of a decoy spread. First, the decoy spread should contain an opening for incoming birds to land in and that opening should be well within your shooting range. Next, the decoys and the opening should be properly placed in relationship to your blind. Ducks circle with the wind and land into it. Since the opening is your killing zone, it should be placed on the downwind side of the blind. A useful variation is to place the opening in the decoy spread so that the wind is blowing across the front of the blind. This can help keep the birds from circling directly overhead. I like to pull all or most of my decoys and rearrange them frequently. If possible I hunt alternate blinds. When ducks get shot at regularly from the same location, they get wary.

Duck Calling Fundamentals

There are a lot of theories about duck calling and I'm not sure that any one of them works 100 percent of the time. Sometimes ducks seem to want a lot of calling with long and nearly continuous highballs. "Put them on a string and don't give them time to think," as the old Reelfoot-style callers used to say. At other times and places, too much calling seems to put ducks off. Maybe not flaring them, but keeping them endlessly circling when they should be landing. Heavy hunting (and calling) pressure often results in call-shy birds but sometimes I think it's a matter of their mood or some other factor that we don't understand. I favor the style of calling that puts ducks in the bag. I don't hesitate to change my style — more or less, loud or soft — when whatever I am presently doing isn't doing the job. Sometimes a simple change-up from the locally popular calling style tells the birds something that they haven't already heard.