As harsh a reality it is, busy schedules often limit the amount of time even the most dedicated hunters have to prepare for their pursuit of game. However, every hunter knows that an optimal setup is often necessary to produce the best possible results. This is especially true for those who embrace cupped wings, deep mud and cloudy skies: duck hunters.
Waterfowl opener never seems to come soon enough, yet it always sneaks up quickly. One particular year taught me a great lesson in Weekend Waterfowlin’ 101. Refreshed by the opportunity to once again escape the fast pace of city life, two of my hunting buddies and I joined the brotherhood of those in pursuit of whistling wings.
A late departure and the usual flow of heavy northbound traffic slowed us in reaching our destination, allowing just enough time to build a few blinds upon our arrival for the next day’s hunt. The sun was setting and birds were soaring overhead, unaware that the forecast for the following day called for showers—of steel shot.
We were hunting a private, 120-acre tract of ideal waterfowl habitat, purchased several years ago by one of my cohorts, Steve. The farmer who owned the property was selling it for an outrageously low price, so Steve jumped on the opportunity and gave into the farmer’s payment demands. Steve and his brother drove north with a duffel bag full of cash, armed to the hilt in case any questionable characters had gotten word of their plans. They met the farmer, his wife and their lawyer to make the exchange and sign the papers. Since then, Steve’s beautiful property has multiplied in value ten-fold.
The land is partially wooded, but is composed mostly of a large “duck lake”. There’s also a slough in the woods, bordered by a neighbor’s field (usually cultivated with corn)—it’s a wood duck haven. On the east side of the property sits a flooded pasture, with one side dominated by partially submerged willow trees. We positioned our blinds on the shoreline opposite the willows, confident that our opening-day decoy spread would be more appealing than the shelter of the scrubby trees.
We took one last look at our newly constructed shooting huts before heading back to the "compound" for bed.
"We're going to get so much shooting," said Jerod, the third guy in our party.
Thinking back on the success of this very spot during the previous season opener, I gave him a high-five in agreement. But ducks are not always so predictable, and we didn't have a chance to scout or discover any flight patterns prior to setting up.
The excitement of yet another year of hunting only permitted a short snooze, as the dawn of a fresh waterfowl season came with haste. Legal shooting hours rapidly approached the next morning, and we once again looked over our setup with high hopes. We quickly realized the ducks had plans that didn’t align with ours, which came as no surprise to me; after all, that’s what hunting is all about.
We watched as flock after flock landed directly across from us, both in and outside of the flooded willow trees. Our setup was not completely faulty, as we downed a single hen mallard. But we weren’t looking for only one bird. It was clear that we weren’t in the right spot. If we wanted things to improve, we needed to adjust our tactics.
After a few hours of marveling at the other side of the water, Steve restlessly departed with his dog, Remington, for a jump shoot of the lake just over the hill behind us. Jerod and I met up to discuss our options. We noticed a beaver dam nestled on the edge of the flooded willows, built by the same culprits who had flooded out this would-be pasture into a waterfowl wonderland.
Jerod and I decided the dam would be an ultimate location to sit, as ducks had been hitting that area from every direction. We boarded a two-man kayak that Steve had won at a Ducks Unlimited banquet. Before we knew it, we were established in the natural cover of weed growth that engulfed most of the dam. Shortly after, the ducks began pouring back into the area. Pass shooting became more intense by the minute.
The next morning we planted ourselves in the same spot, this time with a half-dozen decoys; this allowed for more than just pass shooting. We also added a blind for extra cover from the keen eyes in the sky. By relocating and adjusting our position to match the flight pattern of the ducks, we increased our shooting opportunities tenfold.
In a short time we were able to harvest several birds, including a beautiful drake wood duck. He is now mounted on a piece of driftwood and lives in my curio cabinet.
In the shadows of this duck hunting adventure, there lies a moral: When you're in the field or on the water and you spot a prime opportunity, jump on it. Sometimes you simply don’t have the time to plan every hunt out the way you would like, so you must be responsive to the conditions as they are presented to you. The birds call the shots, so follow their lead and go where they want to be. Relocation may require some additional work, but it will pay off dearly in the end—especially for the weekend waterfowler.