This seems pretty remedial, but you’d be surprised by how many inquiries I get asking for insight on certain areas or birds . . . While I’m always happy to help (without giving away too much information), even my best description and instructions can’t make up for spending time on the water.
Scouting is not just a preseason boat ride. I scout almost every day of the season. During the hunt I’m studying the patterns of birds not working our spread. I’ve discovered some of my favorite spots while hunting nearby and observing birds working a different area.
Remember, scouting is NOT running around and getting birds up off the water . . . This will change the dynamics of a piece of water very quickly. Set up in a good location and break out the binoculars. Bring a sandwich and settle in for a while. It will pay off.
I debated about separating this out from Scouting, but they are two separate things in my mind.
Study your quarry. Yes, that includes patterning the birds in your scout days, but it also involves more in depth research. Here’s what I mean:
In one area I hunt, we have a bunch of Bluewinged Teal, and a bunch of divers. That’s the two ducks you can really count on in this spot. The water is covered in a thick weed, hydrilla, which is great duck food . . . Over time, I’ve learned that the teal will ONLY land in the open holes in the hydrilla, while the ringers and scaup will land anywhere and everywhere. Knowing this behavioral difference has led to heavy straps at the boat ramp, leaving other hunters scratching their heads.
Watch birds land in your decoys. Watch birds flare. Watch videos of the species you’re chasing. Study hard and you’ll be shocked at how your luck will change.
Only your eyes should move
This is one that’s the hardest for my hunters.
I’m at the bottom of a flyway. By the time my birds show up, they’ve been shot at for 2,000 miles. This means cover (next up) and movement are paramount to success.
People would not believe the amount of ALMOST shootable birds that are flawed off by a head movement. On an average hunt, I’d put the number at 6 birds, conservatively . . . That’s a one-man limit.
Something I’ve found that is extremely helpful is video. A frequent guest on my boat once claimed he was still and didn’t flare a pod of birds – when I later sent him a short GoPro clip of the hunt. Sure enough, he spun his head right as the birds began to put on the brakes, only to watch them ascend and flare.
Only move your eyes. That’s the rule. Soak down in DEET if you have mosquitos, light your thermacells, and hold your cough. Okay. Maybe the last one isn’t realistic. But practice being still.
I was shocked, SHOCKED, on my first Midwest hunt.
We plop down into a pit blind, heads barely above ground level. Our guide is wearing a trucker cap with dirty white mesh on the back. No face masks to be seen. No face paint. Blue jeans.
Obviously, in a pit blind, pants didn’t really matter (except they were required), but the other stuff astounded me.
Maybe it’s because of my location for most hunts, at the south end of the flyway. I can guarantee if you are on my boat, in my blinds, your face is covered. Blonde hair is under a hat or a hood.
Are we being “over the top” with our cover? Maybe. But answer this question:
You’ve awakened at 3:00 am. You’ve driven a hundred miles, in the freezing cold. You’ve waded around in the pitch black breaking ice and setting decoys. You get into the blind with your thousand dollar gun loaded with your $25 a box shells and wait.
Why, oh why, would you not just go ahead and throw a face mask on? It’s not going to hurt!
Disappear, and be still.
Decoys should look real
Can you kill divers over bleach bottles?
Of course you can. My youth involved quite a bit of spray painted 2 liters and milk jugs, and we killed plenty of divers.
If you really want to maximize your time on the water, spend a bit more and get real decoys.
I’m not declaring you need all foam filled and fully flocked deeks in your spread, but I will say this:
On the days when the birds are spooky, or sparse, having a realistic looking spread can go a LONG way towards filling your bag.
If you are using jugs for financial reasons, I totally understand and have been there – save up and hit the post season sales – after a few seasons, you’ll have a better looking spread.
Decoys are really a two-parter, however. It’s not enough to just have realistic looking fakes – they also need to be set up in realistic manners. This goes back to scouting and studying:
If your birds seem to be coming in as small groups, 2-3 birds here and there, make your spread look accommodating to those birds. Similarly, we hunt a diver hunt where the rafts will have 4-500 birds in them – a spread of 2 dozen bluebills will barely get a sniff . . . It just doesn’t seem right to the birds.
Get good decoys, and set them up correctly. Study the wind and the sun and the birds and learn from their reaction to your spreads.
Call less for more
There’s always that one guy.
He starts blowing his call at 6:30, and stops after they get back in the truck. And never pulls his trigger.
When you spend time studying the birds, pay attention to when they make noises, the noises they make, and how much they call. It will really surprise you.
One of our most popular hunts is a wood duck flooded timber hunt. About 3 years ago, I went in before the season and studied these birds. They made a weird little “zip” whistle that I’d never heard a call mimic. I couldn’t replicate it with any of my wood duck calls, but I did figure it out on a wigeon whistle.
This call gives me an advantage on these birds over the other hunters on that water. I know the call, and I know how to use it and when to use it to cement the birds in.
Know your calls, practice your calls, and learn when to use them and when to spit them out.
Nothing Earth Shattering
There’s nothing on this list that most seasoned waterfowlers don’t already know. That said, these are the little 1 and 2 percent items that can make a bad hunt into a good hunt, and a good hunt into a great hunt. These are the tips the pros use to make sure there are pictures at the end of the day.
Put these tips to work and you’ll start to see heavier straps sooner rather than later.