Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

The Late-Season Reset (Page 2)

There comes a point in every waterfowl season when previously successful tactics become stale and counterproductive. Here’s how to experiment and adapt so you’ll find late-season success.

Late-Season Pair-Bonding
Not only do winter waterfowl tend to be warier, some are also in a totally different mindset than they were a few weeks back. Around early January many ducks start pairing up. Geese, too, are starting to go off by themselves toward the end of the month. So how does this figure into your hunting plans? According to Powers, paired-up Canadas are still attracted to other geese and will land among them, but then often wander off by themselves. Setting a spread with a few pairs separated from the main bunch might add a little more realism and certainly a different look than other spreads in your area. For mallards, however, the onset of breeding season can really be a game changer.

As Southern timber hunters well know, come mid-January a lot of mallards will shy away from big holes, and not just because that’s where hunters tend to set up. When ducks start pairing up, they’ll usually avoid larger flocks and land in smaller holes by themselves. They might circle big openings, yet they’ll ultimately land in tighter cover. A paired-up drake wants to avoid competition from other drakes, and the hens want to avoid being harassed. Seasoned timber hunters will often set up away from previously productive holes and use far fewer decoys, usually scattered in pairs. For incoming pairs and foursomes, this sparse spread is a killer.

Wherever you hunt, most bonded pairs tend to shy away from groups. Which brings up an interesting dilemma: How do you decoy birds that want to avoid their own species? Powers solves the problem by replacing his duck decoys with a Canada goose spread while still using a duck call. Canada decoys are visible from a long distance, and mallards regularly land among them. Another option is to place a bunch of duck decoys 20 to 35 yards upwind of your blind for visibility, then set one or two mated pairs where you want ducks to land. Just be sure to match your setup and call sparingly or not at all when birds are close; at this point you’re trying to sound like a contented hen, not a flock of excited ducks.

One last consideration for late-season birds: Don’t be married to early morning hunts. My friend Bill Cooksey will often hunt public land in Arkansas when morning hunters have called it quits and returned to the boat ramp. As the ducks are returning to water after feeding in distant fields, he often has the place to himself.

Up north, late-season means lots of near- to below-zero mornings. Ducks and geese might not even fly until 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and to conserve energy they’ll only fly out to feed once a day. When the temperature plummets, the best flight often occurs from noon until 3 p.m. Restrict your hunts to early or late, like you would for most of the season, and you could miss the entire flight.

That pretty much sums up late-season waterfowling. If you don’t think outside the box, or at least reset your thinking when birds suddenly aren’t responding they way they used to, you’re apt to pass up great shooting opportunities and only have yourself to blame.

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