May 04, 2010
Here are some valuable hunting tips from an expert at taking limits of ducks from the big waters East Texas is famous for.
By Matt Williams
Legal shooting time was slightly more than an hour away, but Shane Allman and I were already on the road to beat the early-morning traffic.
The 30-year-old Sam Rayburn duck hunting guide had discovered a pile of diving ducks at the mouth of Ayish Bayou the morning before. Today, he felt confident the birds would show up again at first light.
Allman summarized our plan of attack as his 16-foot Go-Devil buzzed across open water toward a newly flooded main-lake flat. The 4-foot flat was ripe with grass, weeds and other forage that had shot up while the lake had been low the previous summer.
"All that grass is about a foot below the surface, and the ducks are flogging it," said Allman. "It ought to be a great shoot. I don't think anybody else has found them yet."
Allman was right on target on both counts.
Right on schedule, ducks began pouring in just minutes after we'd secured the spread and taken cover in a small motte of flooded willows. Close to 50 birds were cruising around the decoys by the time legal shooting rolled around, and we found ourselves pondering whether we really wanted to spoil the show.
Shane Allman calls to incoming mallards on Sam Rayburn. The best thing to do if you're not proficient at calling, he says, is to learn some simple quacks and feed calls -- and keep your calling to a minimum! Photo by Matt Williams
"Pretty neat, isn't it?" whispered Allman.
"Yeah," I said. "It kind of makes you wonder if you really want to shoot or not."
But we both knew better. Instinct took over as a pair of widgeon zipped in from the right, banked hard left into the north wind and locked up over the spread.
"Take 'em," said Allman.
As those birds cratered, more ducks continued to drift our way in a steady flow that lasted well into the morning. Allman and I finished out our limits in about 90 minutes, but we could have done it much sooner if we hadn't been so choosy about shots.
So it goes on East Texas' big-water lakes when there are lots of ducks and you are hunkered down exactly where they want to be. At times, killing a limit is hardly an issue in that type of situation, even for a marginal wingshooter. The only question is: How quickly do you want to do it?
I'd be lying if I said every one of Allman's guided hunts goes so well. But he probably has consistently better shoots than do most of his colleagues. That's because he works at it and pays close attention to details.
Here are some tips the Sam Rayburn guide had to offer East Texas waterfowlers headed to big-water reservoirs like Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, Fork, Cooper, Lake O' The Pines, Richland-Chambers and Fork this fall and winter.
Community Holes: Every reservoir has its community holes known to attract hordes of ducks and duck hunters each year. Hunting around community holes can be good early on. But the action has a tendency to wane once the ducks are shot at a few times.
Allman says it is just as important to scout community holes as it is to scout new water. That way, you can learn where the birds are feeding and how they approach the feeding areas when the wind is coming from different directions.
Make Ready: "Preparation is essential," Allman said. "You can't expect to show up at the lake on opening day, drive down the bank half a mile and kill ducks. You might get lucky once, but you won't kill ducks consistently.
"Plan ahead and set your clock. Have all your gear ready before you go to bed. Don't be one of those guys who shows up at the boat ramp right at the crack of daylight and goes racing across the lake trying to find a place to set up around a bunch of other hunters who have done their homework."
Be A Weather Watcher: "Watch the weather forecast. If the forecast is calling for a shift in wind direction at daylight, set up for that wind direction. Otherwise, your spread won't be very attractive to incoming birds."
Have A Backup: "Any time you're hunting public reservoirs, you never know when somebody will beat you to a spot. Always have a backup spot in mind and make sure that it won't interfere with other hunters."
Watch The Ducks: "Always pay close attention to the direction the ducks are coming from when they leave the roost in the morning and where they are going. That might tip you off to another spot worth scouting."
Scout Smart: "Don't go scout early in the morning expecting to find a spot to hunt the next day. Ducks like to come back to where they feel safe. If you kick ducks up at 9 a.m., chances are they'll go find another place to feed - and that's where they'll go the next day. I do my scouting late in the day. That way, if I kick up a bunch of birds, they'll more than likely go on to roost and come back to that feeding area the next morning."
P.M. Shoots: "If you kill ducks in a spot during the afternoon, don't expect to go back to the same area the next morning and do it again. You might kill a few, but not near as many. Give your hunting spots some rest. If you hunt the same area for several consecutive days, it'll start wearing thin by the third day."
Feeding Areas: Places ducks choose to feed hinge heavily on water levels. When water levels are low, main lake grassbeds (hydrilla, milfoil, coontail) are going to be very instrumental in attracting ducks. When water levels are high, new-growth vegetation on flats and shorelines will be prone to hold ducks.
"If the water level gets too high, the puddle ducks may start leaving because they won't be able to get to the grass to eat it. They'll start looking for flooded backwaters, creeks and potholes behind the buckbrush. It's good to keep in mind where those spots are. Learn where to hunt when the water is up and where to hunt when it is down."
Time It Right: If you've got the luxury of picking and choosing your hunting times, Allman suggests hunting during the week or on weekends that don't fall within the holiday season. Hunting around big crowds can be a nightmare.
Staging A Spread: "When you're scouting, take your binoculars and pay close attention to what species of ducks are in an area. That will tell you something about the type of spread you need to set up. It's also a good idea to have plenty of diving decoys. My average spread is about 5 to 6 dozen. The more decoys you put out, the more birds you can pull."
Spinner Decoys: "Some days they'll work like magic, and some days they'll spook more ducks than they attract. If you use spinner decoys, watch the ducks. They'll tell you whether they like it or not.
"If the ducks are looking at a spread and they refuse to land, or are flaring continuously, turn off the spinner decoy and see if they react differently. Remote control can come in real handy. Sometimes you can cut the switch on and off and it'll pull the birds right in."
Blind Construction And Camo: "Try to make blinds look as natural as possible, especially if there has been a lot of shooting in an area. Also, make sure the boat is hidden well and that everyone is wearing camo. I'm a firm believer in wearing face masks."
Calling Tips: "If you're not real proficient on your call, don't overdo it. Learn some quacks and feed chuckles, and keep your calling to a minimum. The worst thing you can do is try to highball on a call and not be good at it.
"It's also important to learn how to identify ducks at a distance so you can use the right call. I've watched hunters try you use a mallard call on a flock of bluebills. A bluebill could care less about a mallard call. If they come in, it's not because you were quacking on a mallard call.
"Watch how the ducks react to your call. Some days you've got to call aggressively; other days, you'll need to call as little as possible."
Make A Move: "If you're set up on a spot and the birds are continuously sailing to the other side of the cove, don't be afraid to pick up some decoys and move, provided it won't mess up someone else's hunting.
"You don't have to pick up every decoy in the spread, either. Just pick up a couple of dozen. I've turned some poor shoots into some fantastic hunts by moving as little as 100 yards."
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With tips like these to guide you in the field, you should be set to enjoy some big-water duck shooting on your own this season!
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