January 13, 2017
Taking a limit of ducks late in the game can be a different proposition than when theseason was warmer and younger.
So says Jim Ronquest, the 2006 world duck calling champ and director of media relationsfor the Stuttgart, Arkansas-based, Rich-n-Tone Call company.
What does all of this mean in layman's terms? It means if you want to take a limit of late-season ducks, then you had better be willing to adjust your tactics.
And nowhere in the duck marsh or flooded timber is that more important in Ronquest's mind than in the art of being and staying concealed.
"(Probably) at no (other) time in the year is getting and staying hidden more important than it is in the late season," said Ronquest, producer and co-host for the RNT-V television show on Sportsman Channel. "You've got to pay attention to the little things."
Why is that? Because the ducks do.
In fact, North Texas duck guide Erik Burns, says ducks pay such careful attention to seeminglyminor details in the late season – like a blind that isn't totally hidden, a face that isn't covered or a spent shotgun shell laying on the ground – because at this stage in the game, waterfowl have literally been hunted and pressured for months on end.
And that means hunters have to go almost overboard in their concealment efforts, if theywant to bag a last-minute limit of ducks.
"We love to use layout blinds (in our part of the world) because they give us a mobile advantage that allows us to be more creative in our concealment game," said Burns, who guides for Bullzeye Outfitters.
"But it's not just throwing out a blind on the side of a pond or wetland that we arehunting. Instead, it's taking the time to make the blinds literally become part of the surrounding earth (and disappear).In fact, that's the most time consuming part of our morning setups is making sure that we're properly concealed."
If this seems like overkill, it isn't, especially during the final few weeks ofduck season.
"When ducks circle your decoy set, they are looking for danger," said Burns. "When you are well concealed, even the most educated of ducks can be fooled."
Even late-season birds who have gained a PhD education as they have winged their waydown the flyways.
"Sometimes, I don't think that folks give waterfowl enough credit for how smart they reallyare," said Burns. "I always set up with the mindset that I am trying to fool an intelligent animal, not an ignorant bird."
If concealment is one key to late-season success, Ronquest says another one is topay attention to the course of nature, setting your calling strategy accordingly.
"Once you get into the last couple weeks of January you can be dealing with lots of paired-up birds," said the duck hunter affectionately known to millions as Jimbo. "They typically don't want a lot of calling as the hen (in the air) sees that as competition."
Meaning that if she has a greenheaded boyfriend flying beside her, a mallard hen probablyisn't going to cup her wings and sail your way if she thinks you're a fast-talking Susie trying to steal away her suitor.
How do you combat this tendency so late in the season as the breeding cycle approaches?
"You want to blow (individual) quacks, clucks and light three- to five-note licks onthe call," said Ronquest, who often reaches for the RNT Mondo call hanging around his neck.
"Usually, those calls are all you need since you want to work 'em easy. Now if there's a big cold front pushing southward with sunshine and wind, well, you may need to put a little more on them (with your calling)."
Since late-season ducks tend to pair up – not to mention grow increasingly wearyafter weeks of migration and hunting pressure – that usually dictates an adjustment to the late-season decoy spread too.
"I'm not one of those guys who's against huge spreads and all kinds of motion decoys everywhere this late in the season," says Clint Johnson, a guiding partner with Burns and a four-time Texas state duck calling champ.
"(Why?) Because you need to let your ducks tell you what looks good to them and what doesn't," he adds. "If what you are doing with your spread is working for you, then keep doing it. But if the birds don't like it, try taking the motion decoys out and picking up a few decoys to go with a smaller spread look."
In similar fashion, keep in mind that size isn't the only adjustment that might be necessary to a decoy spread since the date is getting late and ducks are beginning to court one another.
Scott Rozell, a veteran high school football coach and a longtime duck hunter in the bottomland swamps of East Texas, keeps this in mind when setting out his own late-season waterfowl decoy spread.
"I will (actually) pair up the mallards in breeding pairs when setting out a late-season spread," said Rozell, a big fan of Ronquest and the Stuttgart-made RNT duck calls.
Rozell even goes one step further, often using flocked-head mallard decoys to give the spread an extra-colorful appearance to mimic the bright breeding plumage of late-season birds.
One thing he does avoid however are spinning-wing decoys, opting instead for somethinglike a jerk-rig or a water-level wobbler or splasher.
"(By) the time ducks get down here in the late season, they've seen thousands of spinners further up the Central Flyway," said Rozell. "In my opinion, this is when using something like a Wonderduck splasher is really awesome."
While all of the above ideas are designed to help late-season waterfowl hunters take a limit of ducks home to their dinner tables, Ronquest says the most important tip of all might be savoring these final days of the season.
"You want to enjoy each day as best you can," said Jimbo. "Because it'll be several months before we can do it again. So take an extra minute or two to appreciate your surroundings and Gods bounty!"
And that might be the best late-season advice of all, even from a world duck callingchamp who hails from Stuttgart.