Early season waterfowl hunting is the most enjoyable time to hunt ducks for many across the Southeast. The early arrivers this time of the year can produce very successful hunts. Generally the early season’s offer less pressured more decoy able flocks. They are generally much more susceptible to calling as well. There are a few simple strategies that can make your early season hunts successful and memorable.
As with any type of game animal you are pursuing, if you have the ability to scout the places you are going to be hunting, you can increase your success rate three fold. Start your day at a prospective hunting area at daybreak. Carry some great affordable binocularsand observe their flight patterns. Record where the ducks are coming from and how long the flight activity lasts. Also be observant to any high-flying flocks that are not setting down in the area you are in. These areas can be explored later. Note what the ducks are feeding on. Detecting the food source can pay dividends for later hunts. Find the other places in your hunting ground that may hold birds based on that food source. Scan for areas to place your blinds or boat. Locating areas of higher vegetation for concealment can save you time when you’re setting up for your early morning hunt. As the morning progresses cover water and view as many places as possible with your optics and find where the birds are rafted or congregated. If you have access to a GPS, mark the areas on your unit. Identify the different species of ducks present. Once you’ve identified the type of birds you are hunting, it can help planning your hunt much easier, only packing the decoy species needed. Also use the technology we have available for assisting in your scouting. Google earth and any other map applications for your computer or smart phone can help you locate areas of vegetation as well routes that may access hidden pockets on larger lakes or bodies of water. You may also identify swamps or tributaries off creeks and rivers that can hold ducks. Scouting is a fun way to spend the day with family and friends and can ultimately produce more shooting and ducks in the freezer.
The beauty of early season duck hunting is the hunting pressure is less and the birds are easier to call and to decoy into gun range. If you were able to scout or use local knowledge to identify the type of ducks you will be hunting, it is much easier to deduce the number of dekes to use in your spread. Diving ducks generally gather in rafts or larger flocks. Puddle ducks generally congregate in smaller flocks. I tend to use fewer decoys in either species for early season. I place 14 to 16 puddle ducks and two dozen or so for the divers. As the season progresses I increase my numbers by eight decoys as each month passes, up until the close. Try mixing in a few coot decoys for confidence and to add realism to the set. Generally ducks like to congregate with their own. So it’s a safe bet to use the same species when placing your spread. But, it is not uncommon for the various types of
birds to hang out together. I sometimes use up to three or four different species in my set. I base the mixture on prior hunts and scouting trips where I have identified the ducks using the area. There are numerous successful spread patterns, but there is no need to complicate matters. The J and C (see diagrams) patterns are wildly successful and truly simplistic to deploy. The key to either is ensuring that you create a landing zone and that you place your birds where the outer edge of the landing area is a maximum of 45 yards from the blind. This ensures the birds land in effective gun range. It could also give you a better chance at shooting a bird that is just skimming the spread. The other key factor is wind. Check the forecast before your hunt so you can factor in the direction, whether it’s calm at daybreak or it increases as the morning wears on. Once you know there will be wind on your hunt, place your birds with the breeze blowing towards you or slightly quartering towards your blind. Ducks sometimes fly randomly even with wind, but it increases your odds of success to take advantage of this simple factor. As with any kind of hunting, concealment is something that must be taken very seriously. Whether hunting from a boat, blind or simply in waders, if you’ve hunted ducks longer than 5 minutes you have figured out how good their eyesight is. Hide in whatever surrounding vegetation you may have. Camouflage netting can also be very effective. Ensure you’re not being silhouetted and your outline is broken. Also consider using a facemask or paint to cover the warm glow emitted by the sunlight reflecting on your face. If you are hunting a good area and the ducks are plentiful but flaring wildly when they approach. Check your camouflageand set up. There is a good possibility the birds are spotting you, making the decoys and calling useless.
CALLING EARLY SEASON
As we discuss calling, keep one key thought in mind. Ducks on the water are not actually calling to the birds in the air. They are simply responding to the chatter on the water. That being said there is still an art to grasping their attention and keeping the calling natural. When I spot ducks at long distance, I give them a hail call. I call loud and often trying to get their attention. If I turn them my way, I immediately scale it back to softer greeting calls. Then I offer a basic quacking and lastly feed them chuckles to close the deal. If they seem mildly interested but are getting by you, I then turn to a comeback call to try and regain their attention. If birds show up around the 100- to 150-yard range, I simply give them a few hen greeting calls to get their attention. Then follow suite as I mentioned above. Much like turkey calling, part of duck calling is simply getting their attention and then keeping them coming. The aforementioned sequences are that of a hen mallard. Most species of ducks respond to mallard calling to some degree, but it is also imperative to learn the species of ducks in your area and learn to call them. Supplementing the hen mallard calling with the other species common to the area adds another level of realism to your decoy spread. One of the other highly effective calls to learn is that of the whistling ducks. The main species to learn are teal, pintail, widgeon, wood, black belly whistling and fulvous tree ducks. There is an abundance of information on online and you can also look up each bird to learn to imitate them. Having the ability call all types of ducks only puts the odds in your favor when trying to decoy birds into gun range.