November 14, 2011
Long before pit blinds, motorized decoys and flagging became en vogue for waterfowling, experienced jump-shooters could turn a bluebird day into a bag-limit event without the benefit of paddles, decoys or calls.
Jump-shooting is a simple concept: Find waterfowl resting in bays, swamps, river bends or potholes, creep or crawl to get within range and then "jump" the birds into the air. Jump-shooting may be done on foot, wearing waders or, where legal, from a boat, canoe, kayak or float tube. The trick is to close the distance without being seen, which can be done using a variety of methods.
One technique is to glass potential waterfowl loafing areas from a distance and then stalk the birds as you might a distant woodchuck or similar varmint. When birds are spotted, the hunter simply plans a stalk that keeps him out of view but eventually puts him in shotgun range.
Without a watercraft, hunters proceed under the assumption that there are birds around the next bend, at the far side of the pond or in a flooded backwater. Each hotspot must be approached as if there were ducks on the water: Keep low, move slowly and don't stand up (or take another peek) until it's time to shoot.
Where they are allowed, watercraft, including float tubes, can help bring hunters straight to loafing waterfowl. All gear should be camouflaged or painted in muted fall colors. Wear a face mask and gloves (to eliminate skin glare) and keep the paddle, pole or oars on the side of the craft away from the ducks. Proceed slowly with a minimum of movement and wait until the birds are dangerously close before surprising them with a volley of shots. There are likely to be many more ducks hiding in the surrounding brush so reload immediately and be ready for stragglers.
November ducks may be found in some remarkably small places. Don't overlook tiny streams, farm ponds or shallow river bends. Always assume there are ducks on the water! There may be one bird or 200, so approach low and slow behind brush, logs, blowdowns and similar cover. Gather your wits at the water's edge, check your gun and shells, jump up and be ready to shoot. The birds may falter for a moment, surprised at your appearance, but they will then take to the air en masse. Pick one bird; drop one bird. Pick another bird; drop another bird. Flock shooting produces nothing but empty shells and unscathed ducks winging very quickly over the horizon.
When faced with big-water situations such as flooded bottomlands, bays and coves or wide, shallow river channels, stay close to shore and move slowly, keeping just out of sight. Glass the shoreline ahead. Look for ducks resting on logs, feeding in secluded coves or sitting in the shoreline mud. Look once, twice and then once more because ducks move around and change positions throughout the day. A cove that looks empty on the first pass may have a dozen fat mallards in it the next time you look.
When you spot ducks, make note of their position using nearby landmarks and then move back into the brush to stalk them. That may include taking a wide detour around deeper water, muddy flats or steep banks, but don't hurry. The birds will be there when you get there. Don't worry about breaking branches or occasional splashing on the approach. Those are normal waterway sounds and typically won't spook the birds. Ducks are usually tolerant of shoreline intruders -- to a point. Take frequent breathers while maintaining a low profile.
If your quarry takes wing at any point in the jump-shooting process, get low under cover and be ready to shoot. Sometimes ducks will make a wide loop around the area, flying low and fast in an effort to get a look at what spooked them. It's possible to get a quick snap shot at circling birds. Keep in mind that ducks may return to the same loafing areas within hours of being shot at. When you've hunted all your favorite spots, have lunch, take a nap, and run through the list again. You may be surprised to find more birds waiting for you the second time around!