Early Season Waterfowl
For many hunters, doves are the game bird of choice for kicking off their Fall hunting adventures, but as more states institute early season waterfowl hunting, more and more hunters are targeting these larger migratory game birds. For waterfowlers, early Fall breezes fuel the flames of an unrivaled passion. As migration reports start rolling in, the excitement builds. It is surprising that waterfowlers can even withstand the anticipation. With all of the excitement and anticipation involved, do not forget to your homework.
Nothing else contributes as much to waterfowling success as being in the right place at the right time. The perfect blind, the most natural looking decoy spread, the most realistic calling, nor anything else will make a difference if the birds are not there. It does not matter if an area looks good to you. It has to look great to the waterfowl.
You can check water levels in the marshes, wildlife management areas, and lakes. You can look for newly flooded fields or bottomlands. You can determine tidal patterns for the coastal regions. You can locate available food sources. You can also check online waterfowl reports. However, the best and most reliable way to find the prime hunting areas is to hit the road or water and figure out where the birds are actually feeding, loafing, and roosting. Your own personal scouting results will tell you more valuable information about the place you need to be on opening morning.
When it comes to early season ducks, blue-winged, green-winged, and cinnamon teal are the name of the game. These little avian rockets begin their September exodus when the first cool breezes blow down from the arctic. Throughout their migration, they will utilize the same marshes, rice fields, swamps, and shallow mud flats from previous years, if they have similar water levels. These early season ducks have not been pressured like regular season ducks. This means they respond quickly to decoy spreads and aggressive calling. Teal are especially attracted to spinning wing decoys, splashers, and jerk rigs. They prefer the high-pitched, raspy sound of hen teal calls and drake whistles, but they will readily respond to mallard calls, as well.
For early season geese, it is time to target those resident Canada geese. Since these birds do not migrate like typical geese, they can be a little easier to pattern. You have a greater period of time to watch and scout their behavior and habits. Unless their roosts get pressured, your focus can remain on the food sources. Even when the shooting begins, the resident Canada’s may move from one location to another, but they will readily return to the prime feeding areas week after week. These local birds will enter a feeding area from a particular direction and exit from another. This is a bit of key information that tells you the best places to set up in each location. Their routines also mean you do not have to be an aggressive caller nor do you need a massive decoy spread. Resident geese typically remain in small family groups until later in the season. In most cases, this means using a decoy spread of less than 4 dozen decoys. As long as you find the right place and stay hidden, you should have a chance at some great shooting.
Each year, opening day typically boasts the largest crowds of hunters. If you are hunting public land, you may have heavy competition. If you have a couple of back-up plans, you can increase your odds of success. This is where your scouting really pays off. Especially if you have located several waterfowl feeding areas. Another way to ensure success and reduce competition is to leave for your spot early enough to guarantee you get to your spot first. There is also a lot to be said about persistence. Many times, waterfowlers end their hunts too early. Waterfowl do not always move when you think they should. If the morning hunt is a bust, the afternoon hunt may be golden.
Waterfowlers that throw in the towel too soon can miss some fantastic shooting. Those that come early and stay late can experience some unexpected waterfowling surprises. When everything lines up perfectly, the hunting is sublime. This is what fuels the unrivaled passion of waterfowling.