5 Scouting Tips for Scattered Ducks

(Photo courtesy of Howard Communications)

Mild weather that has caused deer hunters to curse their rotten luck in the American Midwest isn't doing duck hunters in the Great Plains any great favors either

With big concentrations of ducks enjoying the good life in the Central Flyway where unfrozen water and abundant leftover grain crops are conspiring to keep the 2015-16 early season migration of ducks and geese a hit-and-miss affair, duck shooting success right now often revolves around effective scouting.

As in getting out in the pickup truck, rolling down the asphalt and glassing up huntable concentrations of ducks with a good pair of binoculars the afternoon before a hunt.

But even with the mild weather and on again, off again migration in the Plains, good duck and goose shoots can still be found.

Especially if you follow these five tips to scout your way to waterfowl hunting success in the early season:

1. Get Out and Look Where Ducks Tend to Fly: For Ronnie Phillips and Logan Burditt, co-hosts of the Outdoor Channel show Heartland Waterfowl, a good duck shoot isn't a luxury.

Because when you're filming a hit television show, it's a necessity to keep the viewers coming back for more.

And finding consistently good shoots that produce good video footage and compelling stories involves a lot of windshield time.

"For me and Ronnie, we believe that 90 percent of our success comes from just getting in the truck and driving," said Burditt. "The birds will be where they want to be and we are not always going to be sure why. But when we make a road trip or have a long weekend to hunt, we're going to get out, scout and look for birds.

"When we're hunting and filming, we want to find the most consistent success possible, and for us, the best way to accomplish that task is to get out and scout and drive around to find birds."

Keep in mind that to do so involves more than just simply driving down a backcountry road, hoping for some blind luck in finding ducks on the wing.

In most cases, knowing where ducks tend to congregate as they move into a local area gives hunters a good starting point, be it a marshy delta at a local reservoir, a winding river where ducks can stop in at a sandbar for a drink, a wildlife refuge where high energy foods are planted for wintering ducks or even a local stock tank where birds will stop to rest and loaf for a spell.

"There are 10 to 20 lakes near where we live, all within a short drive of our homes," said Burditt. "The birds can pick up and choose where they want to go (almost on a moment's notice). So that forces us to spread out hunters (and go find them).

A case in point about all of this is as the season deepens and winter weather arrives in Kansas and Missouri. That's when Burditt says that he and Phillips have learned a trick or two.

"We've discovered that when these local lakes freeze up, that means that the cold weather will push the ducks to the rivers," he said. "(Kind of knowing where they might go) is a huge factor for us."

2. Scout Early and Late: Once you put yourself in an area where ducks tend to be found, it pays to be willing to sacrifice some hunting time if necessary to observe when and where those ducks are flying.

If hunters can visually locate where the birds are feeding, where they are loafing, where they are roosting and the various flight paths and times of day that they tend to move about, it helps to connect the dots.

And when you can do that with ducks in your area, the reward can be a red-hot duck shoot the following day.

3. Find the Food: In days gone by, peanuts were a main attraction in my neck of the woods. But as I've lamented, not any more.

In some years, millet planted on local reservoirs by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation or by the biologists at nearby National Wildlife Refuges will lure in and hold concentrations of ducks.

But this year, most Red River Valley ducks seem to be concentrating on local fields that are newly flooded with sheet water or on regional stock tanks where the dry weather of late summer allowed for the growth of abundant smartweed, a favorite food source for migrating ducks.

Wherever a duck hunter happens to live and hunt, find out what – and where – the preferred food resources are and you'll almost certainly find out where the ducks are spending the bulk of their time in your area.

4. Watch the Weather: Being a weather geek to begin with – hey, I live in the heart of Tornado Alley – I'm always interested in what the weather is doing.

And as a duck hunter anxiously looking to the skies each fall, I'm also keenly aware of what the weather is going to be doing a week or so down the road.

By paying attention to long range forecast ideas (not necessarily the computer generated forecasts that you see on your Smartphone) and to the conversations on Internet weather boards, I can get an idea of when big weather to the north of my region will cause a big push of ducks and geese to move down the Central Flyway.

"Weather is a huge factor throughout the season in terms of the numbers of ducks that we see," agrees Burditt.

"We're fortunate to be able to go to where birds are early in the year," he adds. "But later on, when things are supposed to heat up around our homes in Missouri and Kansas, the bottom line is that if it doesn't get cold enough, we may never see those birds (we're hoping to see)."

5. Pay Attention to Waterfowl Migration Reports: In concert with the above idea of watching the weather trends, I also pay attention to waterfowl migration reports, both the kind that are issued each week by various state wildlife agencies and through smartphone apps like the Ducks Unlimited waterfowl migration report.

When those reports show a big flight of birds a day or two to my north, you can bet that I'm going to be out looking and scouting, trying to find where the birds want to be as they move into my locality.

And when I find that spot, the proverbial “X” with any luck, you can bet that I'll then be out hunting the next day as stormy weather descends on my area and some of the season's best duck hunting arrives on a freshening north wind.

All while I'm waiting in the wings, my camouflaged form hiding a great big smile.

As I blow a highball greeting call and a chattering feeding chuckle on a cocobolo duck call, all while enjoying the addictive spectacle of waterfowl wings cupping up in the air above and dropping into the decoy spread.

Because early season or not, for the duck hunter, it doesn't get any better than that.

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