Go the Extra Mile for Duck Hunting Success
Finding your share of ducks this season may require racking up some additional road miles and a good set of binoculars
Truth be known, I don't live in a great duck hunting area.
I used to, back in the day when my local area near the Red River in North Texas was one of the Lone Star State's favored spots for grain farming, especially for the production of peanuts.
While some waterfowlers back east might find it hard to believe, mallard ducks – and other puddle duck species like pintails and wigeon – love to eat goobers left by the wayside when farmers come in and harvest the crop.
For years, one of my preferred methods for chasing greenheads was to find a harvested peanut field, obtain permission to hunt it and then return to set out a duck and Canada goose decoy spread and hide among the rows of peanut debris.
Back in those days – my high school and college years, an era before the first layout blinds hit the market – burlap and camouflage netting were often the ticket to hiding from the prying eyes of mallards as they wheeled overhead and landed a few feet away.
When the shooting was good, it was really good, with action as good as any that a duck hunter this side of Stuttgart, Arkansas, could ever dream about.
In fact, at one point back in the 1960s, there were more than 600 registered peanut farmers in my home county. And trust me, that was a fact that clouds of migrating mallards and Canada geese took note of as they pushed their way southward through the Central Flyway each fall.
All of which led to some phenomenal duck hunting trips in dry peanut fields, not to mention on surrounding stock tanks, local reservoirs and the Red River as greenheads - with their craws literally choked with goobers – flew in to rest and grab a quick drink.
But that was then – in the 1980s and the early 1990s – and this is now when not one single peanut farmer remains in my home county.
And very few grain farmers of any kind remain either as the sprawl of Dallas/Fort Worth suburbia moves northward towards the Red River.
Understandably, a substantial shift in waterfowl migratory patterns has been the result with most Canada geese and mallards moving their flight patterns in the western third of Oklahoma and on into the Panhandle and Rolling Plains of Texas where some peanut farming still remains.
That doesn't mean that good duck shooting can't still be found in my area, because it still can be, especially for gadwalls, wigeon, green-wing teal and a smattering of mallards.
It's just that hunters like yours truly have to work much harder to find such action these days, scouring the local countryside from the cab of a pickup truck.
All while glassing likely looking spots with a good pair of binoculars to find the proverbial “X” where a spread of decoys can be tossed the next morning.
It's the key to success these days where I live and I'm not the only one to employ the tactic either.
Take a recent conversation I had with local waterfowl guide J.J. Kent, owner and operator of Kent Outdoors in Pottsboro, Texas (www.kentoutdoors.com, 903-271-5524).
When I called to ask him how the first week of the first split of the 2015-16 North Texas duck season had been going, the Avian X Decoys and Zink Calls pro-staffer laughed and said the following:
"Driving, always driving. We had some good shoots this past week, but I'm out scouting and always looking for the next good one."
Why? Because Kent, a Mossy Oak regional pro staff manager as well, has learned that in simple terms, duck hunting success in the southern Great Plains is often nothing more than a by-product of the number of gallons of gasoline that are burned while driving a truck around and scouting for concentrations of ducks.
"Scout, scout and scout some more," said Kent when I asked for the key to his duck shooting success so far this year. "We've had so much rain this year that there is plenty of water around in stock tanks, lakes and even plenty of sheet water in fields.
"And with little in the way of really cold air up north to push down any really big concentration of birds into our region, we're seeing scattered flocks here and there," he added.
"To be successful, you've got to get out and go find out where they are and then set up there in that exact spot the next morning."
Of course all of that is contingent upon either hunting a big public marsh or reservoir or in having enough permission on private land hotspots to be able to move around a bit.
But even where that latter point is concerned, where there is a will, there is often a way.
A case in point was a shoot that Kent enjoyed a few days ago where a fresh concentration of birds was found in a flooded field out towards the Wichita Falls area, country better known for dove and quail hunting rather than good duck shooting.
"We found the birds one afternoon while scouting, located the landowner and were able to get permission to go in and hunt it the very next day," said Kent.
"It was a good shoot the next morning for several types of puddle duck species," he said. "And we didn't even know that those ducks were even there until we found them on a scouting trip."
Outdoor Channel hunting personality Ronnie Philips understands exactly where Kent is coming from and embraces the same concept of being a hardcore scout in an effort to find consistent duck hunting success.
"In my mind, there are a couple of different breeds of waterfowlers out there," said Philips, one of the hosts of Heartland Waterfowl.
"There are those who enjoy belonging to a duck club where there are pit blinds that are maintained," he added. "And then there is the hardcore weekend warrior type who is going to go out in an effort to find and shoot a few ducks."
Philips said that while there is nothing wrong with being able to afford to belong to a good duck hunting club, he and his Heartland Waterfowl co-host Logan Burditt definitely belong to the latter group.
"We embrace the passion of getting out, scouting hard, putting in a lot of work and doing what's necessary in terms of time and money spent to find success in the field," said Philips.
"Some people don't like that approach, but we've really embraced the idea that if it is 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, then we've got to get in the truck and go as far as we need to go in order to find a huntable concentration of birds for the next day."
For both Philips and Kent alike, duck hunting success – especially in the early season – is all about going that extra mile.
And sometimes, they both mean that quite literally.
"If we have to, we're willing to wake up earlier than anyone else, to go to a public spot if necessary, to secure a spot to hunt, to get blinded in and to enjoy the end result of harvesting a limit of birds," said Philips.
"For us, the reward is as much in the effort and work that went in to finding a good hunt as it is in actually pulling the trigger and retrieving the birds," he added. "We've totally embraced that (style) in our waterfowl hunting and the rewards are rich for us."
No matter how many miles they have to travel down a Great Plains highway in order to find the next good duck shoot.