Strategies for public hunting
For many waterfowlers, public hunting areas are the only locations readily available for them to hunt. For some, the idea of public hunting areas brings thoughts of incessant calling, crowded boat ramps, and heavy competition for hunting spots. Others think of the abundant waterfowling opportunities on wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, and various other public areas. To an extent, both trains of thought are correct.
Publicly accessible managed lands attract swarms of waterfowl, but they also attract large amounts of hunters. We will discuss some tactics to improve your hunting experience on these free-for-all public areas.
Find the best locations
Some locations are natural duck magnets. For various reasons, some areas consistently draw more ducks than other areas. Finding and gaining access to these locations will offer more consistent waterfowling than other locations. When you locate these hot spots, expect other hunters to know about them. Prepare to arrive earlier than you otherwise would and have a backup plan if another hunter beats you to that spot.
Hunt when others are working
Most hunters know the lower the hunting pressure on an area the better the duck hunting. Weekday hunting is typically more productive than weekend hunting with the masses. You may also encounter fewer hunters during holidays, extreme weather conditions, or opening days of other hunting seasons.
Hunting during a certain time of day may also allow for lower pressure hunting. Ducks can alter their feeding times based on hunting pressure. Remain flexible and take advantage of any low pressure public hunting opportunities.
Hunt off the beaten path
Hard work pays off. Get away from the crowds and locate the duck havens that other hunters refuse to work to locate. Out think and outwork your competition. Explore and locate places that are difficult to get to. Study aerial photographs and maps to discover possible duck refuges. A GPS is an essential tool for exploration. If necessary, hike, wade, use a mud motor, or pirogue to access new locations. Hard work and exploration will, in most instances, improve your odds for a successful hunt.
Hunt numerous areas
Don’t plan your whole season around one area. Many states offer hunting opportunities on numerous management areas and refuges located close together. Waterfowl will relocate from area to area, based on the changing habitat and weather conditions. Having numerous hunting locations will allow you to follow the waterfowl movements. As the conditions change, continue prospecting, and you will locate the birds.
Make yourself known
On crowded public areas, flamboyant tactics will often grab and hold the attention of ducks. This doesn’t mean you need a thousand decoys, a flock of motion decoys, or even calling like you are on stage. However, you may edge out the competition by setting out a larger spread than the hunters near you, adding motion to your decoys, and continuously calling. You can also make your spread stand out by adding white, like shoveler or pintail decoys. Even painting some flat black will offer a greater contrast. Flagging can also draw distant waterfowl.
Hunt the best weather
Stack the odds and plan your hunts for favorable weather. Heavy rain, rapid thaws, snow, high winds, cold snaps, and fog will cause waterfowl to move and be more responsive to calls and decoys. Watch the weather forecasts and prepare to hunt when the conditions bring in new ducks or encourage waterfowl movement.
Public waterfowl hunting can progress from extremely slow to nonstop action with a simple weather change. Understanding this and adapting your tactics can produce an outstanding hunt.
If you still can’t draw the ducks, change tactics. Change calling styles, locations, decoy strategies, etc. Stay flexible, adaptable, and mobile. Always have numerous plans of action allowing for a quick change of tactics.
Be courteous and respectful
When waterfowling on public lands, hunting etiquette can increase or ruin the enjoyment of the hunt. If more waterfowlers observe the rules of hunting etiquette, ducks would work closer, shots would be shorter, more hunters would enjoy the sport.
- Don’t crowd another hunters spot. If someone beat you to the spot, move to another.
- When ducks are working another spread, stop calling. If another hunter has their focus, let that hunter finish the ducks.
- Avoid skybusting. Don’t take marginal shots. Skybusting is not sporting and results in unrecovered cripples.
- Don’t hog the boat ramp. Prepare your boat for launch before you back down the ramp.
- Respect other boaters. If you pass another boat, don’t swamp them with your wake. Never spotlight another boat driver.
- Don’t violate the trust of a hunting buddy. If a buddy shows you a secret spot, don’t hunt there without him or her. Never show the spot to anyone else.
- Follow the Golden Rule. Treat other hunters the way you want to be treated. Respectful behavior equals better hunting for all.