Creating a Duck Hunting Game Plan
Kick start your season and maximize your hunting potential by creating a duck hunting game plan. Throughout the U.S., the majority of duck hunting takes place in high-profile locations where large concentrations of ducks attract a huge hunting crowd. The heavy competition and hunting pressure, typical with these locations, quickly educates the ducks to steer clear of seductive calling and decoy spreads. However there are thousands of hidden and isolated spots that attract ducks, and they provide enough food and protection to offer some great duck shoots for the hunters who work to find them. These spots include farm ponds, beaver sloughs, creeks, swamps, watershed lakes, and oxbows. These are areas where ducks become accustomed to resting and feeding without disturbances.
The key to finding these hidden spots is thorough scouting. Scouting for duck hunting spots can be almost as fun as the actual hunt itself. It is like hunting for buried treasure and wondering how much wealth it will provide.
Preseason scouting can reveal new locations and scouting throughout the season can expose which places the ducks are using. Hunters, who want to avoid the crowd, who are fed up with empty skies, or who just need some new scenery, should push themselves to find new areas before duck season. Hunters should also continue scouting during the season to stay on the ducks. Those who follow the duck movements, often consistently enjoy more successful hunts.
The best approach to scouting is similar to a military strategist planning a siege. You start with a main strategy, and then you factor in different contingencies, or what-if backup plans. With every option you factor in, you gain more ability. More options mean more freedom to stay on the birds.
In this day and age of elite private leases and overcrowded public hunting areas, hidden and unpressured spots are still available, but you have to work for them. They are typically located in the most remote pieces of public hunting lands, the deepest parts of swamps, and the roughest river stretches. It takes a determined mind to find these places. The hunters, who uncover these hidden spots, go deeper, push harder, and possess the necessary equipment to reach them.
In some cases, specialized hunting equipment is required to locate and hunt shallow backwater areas. For hunting the thin water, a shallow-draft flat bottom boat and surface drive or long-tail mud motor, such as a Mud Buddy or Go-Devil, are ideal for plowing through shallow brush and vegetation that would render an outboard worthless. Check out this video. For hunting big water a larger, deeper hulled boat coupled with a strong, reliable outboard, is necessary to navigate the strong currents and high waves. At times, an ATV is useful for traveling off-road trails, and a tough pair of waders, a backpack, and a hiking staff will help in accessing remote walk-in locations.
There are several ways to locate and access potential hunting locations. You can get leads for potential spots by talking to county agents, game wardens, or biologists. Inquire about aerial duck surveys, and take detailed notes about what you discover. As you build up potential leads, locate and purchase maps covering those areas. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) offers topographic maps that contain a huge amount of information, such as oxbows, swamps, marshes, and other small bodies of water that may attract ducks. These topographical maps can also reveal potential access routes, like streams, creeks, railroad beds, and logging roads, leading into these areas. A topographic map can prove indispensable for discovering new hunting locations. Aerial photo maps may reveal additional hidden areas, which may help enhance your topographical maps. Photo maps can be acquired from your local USDA Farm Service Agency offices. County road maps, obtained from county highway departments, can help you navigate the backcountry roads. With the advances in technology, satellite imagery, such as Google Earth and Terra Server, has become commonplace and is an excellent resource for discovering new areas and access points. Coupling all of these scouting aids with a GPS unit makes navigating nature a breeze. By setting and using GPS waypoints, you can snake through timber and swamps with confidence.
For the hunters who can afford it, aerial scouting is among the best methods to find hidden duck holes. You will see places you never thought existed. By chartering a small airplane, you can view sloughs, potholes, or green timber from the air and discover the best access points. Take advantage of your time in the air. Use binoculars to get a closer view of certain areas. Set GPS waypoints for potential duck hunting spots. Carry your camera and photo document your discoveries. Mark promising areas on your maps as well. When you find a potential spot, have your pilot circle the area to locate the best access route.
Once the season begins, this is when your contingency plans come into play. Your initial strategy is prepared before opening day. Once the shotguns start blasting, you adapt and relocate to stay on the ducks.
There are many factors that cause ducks to use an area or leave it. The main factor is availability of food. As long as a spot offers food, ducks will find and consume it, but if the water drops out, food runs out, or water freezes, the ducks will find a new spot. Water depth and food availability are directly related. As the water rises, new food becomes available. As the water recedes, food becomes less available, and the ducks move. Hunting pressure can also greatly influence the location of ducks. When the pressure becomes too heavy, the ducks will leave the area in search of sanctuary.
These variables force hunters to continue scouting throughout the season to stay on top of duck movements. This scouting allows you to adapt your strategy. To keep up with the birds, hunters can physically and electronically follow them. The internet provides almost limitless information. Hunters all over the country can chat with each other online and discuss the duck migration. You can follow the migration with migration apps, like Ducks Unlimited Migration Map. You can monitor waterfowl counts on local refuges. You can obtain up-to-date weather forecasts, monitor water levels, and direct a real-time waterfowl intelligence network from your computer. You could potentially keep up with the duck movements from one hour to the next. The most dependable method to keep up with the ducks is actual in-the-field scouting. Hunters can reap greater benefits by doing their own scouting. Friends, other hunters, and websites may reveal what areas the ducks are using, but you must physically confirm the exact location the birds are using. Physical scouting usually reveals the most useful information at dawn and dusk. Scouting during the late afternoon can tell you where to hunt the following morning.
I understand not every hunter has the luxury of scouting this much. Many have to scout and hunt the same day. The temptation is to rush and set up in a less than ideal spot. Avoid falling victim to this temptation and continue looking until you uncover the right spot. Do not hurt your hunt for a quick start.
Scouting is fun and can greatly improve your season. Finding good spots to hunt ducks has become tougher than ever. Public land competition is severe, but the possibilities of finding good spots are there. If you put forth the effort, you could be rewarded with cupped wings and full limits.