Late-Season Duck Tricks
By now the mallards that survived the steel gauntlet are spooky and harder to decoy than they were weeks ago.
November 17, 2009
By now the mallards that survived the steel gauntlet are spooky and harder to decoy than they were weeks ago. To fool them now, as a general rule, set fewer decoys than you did earlier in the season and blow your calls less and more softly. Then work in this great advice from five of the best duck hunters I know to bag a limit on a cold winter day.
Troy Ruiz has hunted every duck species across the United States as he filmed TV shows for Mossy Oak and Primos Calls. He says, "No matter where you hunt, scouting is a big key late in the year. If you hunt in a spot where the ducks want to go it won't take much else to shoot your limit. Drive around with your binocular and look for ducks on the move and pitching into feeding areas. Roll down your window and listen for them. Find out where they are feeding, and the exact time of day they are there, then see if you can get permission to hunt the hotspot. It can be fast and furious and over in a hurry."
Bonus tip: Ruiz uses just three decoys on a jerk string and sets a couple more confidence blocks nearby.
Wind Can Be Helpful
Will Primos hunts mallards in the Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana delta region. He says, "I try to pick days with some wind. The windier it is the better, as wind helps make my blocks look alive. The ducks have to come into the wind, and are less wary as they struggle to land in it. I really love a windy afternoon. Some of my best hunts lately have been from 2 to 4 p.m. I don't shoot close to sunset because if I quit early, I can usually have another good hunt in the same spot the next day."
Bonus tip: Forget the loud, fancy high-ball calls now; instead, Primos uses soft chattering, or what he calls "happy talk," to bring the birds down close.
Change It Up
David Hale says late limits are all about changing it up. "Change your decoy spreads to make them look different than the sets of other hunters in your area," says the legendary Kentucky hunter. "Use fewer decoys, and set them in different spots and patterns. Change your blind and shooting locations. Maybe move to the far side of a cove, or stand and call beside a different tree 100 yards away in the flooded timber. Hunt and call where birds don't expect you to be."
Bonus tip: Hale says to wear a face mask or paint your face because wary birds look for anything shiny and out of the ordinary.
Turn Down the Volume
Harold Knight has called in more ducks than any hunter I know. The Kentucky pro says he quiets down, way down, late in the year. "One of my favorite calls is the soft, pleading comeback," he says. "I blow this call when ducks are swinging and trying to decide whether to pitch in. On days when they are making a fast, low approach I rely more on quick hen clucking and feeding chuckles so they'll drop right in."
Bonus tip: Knight says to stay on your toes with your shotgun ready at all times, especially on days when ducks are zooming the decoys low and fast. If you blink, you might miss your only opportunity of the morning.
Find Food Sources
David Draper is a duck nut who hunts the North Platte River Valley in Nebraska. He says, "Out here, the biggest keys to late success are open water and available food-rivers, creeks and warm-water sloughs, and fields of corn and winter wheat. Scout these areas, find where the most ducks are, get permission and hit it the next morning before the birds are gone. A hotspot, especially a food source, can change quickly."
Bonus tip: Draper hunts a slough off the North Platte that freezes late in the year. He gets up early, goes in and breaks the ice. Just a little open water will attract ducks when everything else is frozen. Throw a few decoys on the water, set a few full-body fakes on the surrounding ice and get ready for some of the best gunning of the year.