This time of year, hunters have to outsmart the ‘educated’ waterfowl
When duck hunters enter their blinds to kick off the second half of the season this month, they’ll be greeted with several challenges. Most of these hurdles are a product of hunting pressure. At this point in the year, the ducks have seen all sorts of tricks and techniques thrown at them while migrating down the Central Flyway. They have become, for a lack of better word, educated. To compensate for this, hunters must adapt new strategies in accordance with the birds’ behavior to consistently fill straps through the season’s end.
Through the end of the season, waterfowl hunters should plan to keep things simple, especially when it comes to decoys and calling. Decoy spreads should be set out in a manner that appears natural for the area being hunted. Overdoing the spread with too many decoys or too many gadgets can ruin a hunt. Hunters should refrain from using several robotic, motion decoys, and the size of their spread should decrease as the size of the water body they’re hunting gets smaller.
One tactic hunters can use to give the decoys some motion during calm conditions is employing good old-fashioned jerk string. This is basically a line or cord with two or three decoys attached to it. The line is stretched out into the spread where the decoys that are attached are allowed to float among other decoys. The opposite end of the line runs back into the blind where hunters can yank on it, which ultimately sets into motion the decoys attached to the string. When a jerk string rig is set up correctly, it adds some very subtle movement to a decoy spread that appears natural. Sometimes, this motion is just enough to bring wary waterfowl down into shooting range.
More than likely, piercingly loud hails on a call aren’t going to help during this final part of the season. Instead, subtle calls are going to be the ticket. Soft feeding chuckles, combined with the use of a whistle, can be extremely effective. Without question, when the birds are locked in on the spread with their wings cupped up and their feet down, hunters should leave their calls alone and get ready to disengage the safety on their shotguns.
When these techniques are employed in the right locales, the results are heavy, colorful straps and solid memories. This is much easier said than done. Finding prime locations to overcome the mid- to late-season grind and put adaptive strategies to the test takes some work and scouting.
The best duck holes are off the beaten path, where they remain untapped by crowds. Stock ponds and cattle tanks within the interior parts of the Lone Star state are good examples of some premium, untouched waterfowl hunting grounds because they’re not pressured by the masses.
Some of the most memorable ducks hunts I’ve experienced in recent years have taken place on ponds in the middle of cow pastures where most hunters wouldn’t even think about scouting for ducks. Setting up was as easy as chunking out a dozen decoys, putting the wind at my back and letting the birds do their thing.
Having access to a shallow-draft vessel or a mud boat is another good way to find places to hunt that are off the grid and chock-full of ducks. During December and January, water levels within our coastal marshes and back lakes are going to be much lower than they were during the first half of the season. This means that fewer folks will be able to get into these shallow water areas, and some incredible opportunities could await those who are willing to venture out and go scout them. Your next duck-hunting honey hole could be relatively close to home, right here in the upper coast marsh.
Mastering the art of being efficiently mobile is something all waterfowl hunters should strive to accomplish. It will help ensure they continue to enjoy excellent shoots as the season wears on.
Incorporating the use of a makeshift or homemade blind that not only does its job to conceal shotgunners, but also can be set up or taken down easily, will further increase the odds for success as it enhances hunters’ mobility. Being able to quickly set up and hunt just about anywhere the birds want to be will keep shotgun barrels hot and shell bags empty.
Pursuing mid- to late-season waterfowl can be downright tough at times. But when the birds put on a show over the decoys, the rewards are always worth the effort. Those willing to persist ’til the very end will achieve the most success and create even more memories.