I call Minnesota home, which means aside from my jaunts into a few nearby states, the bulk of my waterfowl hunting happens in a state with a tremendous amount of water.
We’re known for our 10,000 lakes, but the number is actually closer to 14,000. That tally doesn’t factor in ponds, rivers, streams, sloughs and the rest of our surface water – all of which can draw in a variety of billed quarry.
With this many options you’d probably assume that I divide my time evenly between various types of water depending on a litany of variables. If so, you’d be wrong.
More and more I find myself gravitating toward duck hunting small water – here’s why.
The Idiot Factor
It’s currently so popular to be politically correct that we are choking on our own righteousness. My buddies and I don’t really fall into the don’t-offend-anyone category, so we often talk about The Idiot Factor. This isn’t native to duck hunting and can be applied to bowhunting public land, trying to launch a boat at a single-lane access on July 4, or a host of other situations in the outdoors where the crowds swell.
You’d think avoiding people on some of our larger lakes that might contain 100,000 acres of surface water or more would be easy but it’s not. Not always at least. The best spots are no secret, and they’ll draw crowds. Sometimes the best way to find some elbow room is to locate a little honey-hole that gets overlooked by the masses.
Another compelling reason to shun big water in favor of the smaller stuff is because it’s a heck of a lot easier to hunt. For instance, the need to prepare the boat, pack dozens of decoys, and get there four hours before first light just doesn’t exist.
A lot of the times I grab a box of shells and a couple of decoys and stuff them into a daypack and that’s all I carry into my spot. This isn’t usually stack up the greenheads like dead-fowl cordwood, but it is fun hunting that can help you get your fix without the hassle of having to go all-out gear wise.
There are some types of hunting where a guy can slip away for a few hours and be back at home or to the office before anyone misses him. This is not usually the case with waterfowl hunting big water, or big-product duck hunting on smaller water.
This means it’s weekends or nothing for many of us. I got sick of that reality a few years ago and started scouting out tiny, public-land spots near my home in the Twin Cities where I could hunt the first hour of shooting light.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been walking back to my truck with a couple of woodies or maybe a mallard or a teal in my pack while I could hear the not-so-distant drone of rush hour ramping up during the morning commute, but I do know it has happened a lot.
Everyone I know who owns a duck dog owns an amazing duck dog. What do you suppose the odds are of that? I’m of the opinion that they might just be exaggerating their dogs’ abilities while downplaying their faults. I know I occasionally fall into the trap of talking my dog up to levels she has never really seen, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often now that I don’t drink.
To be honest, all of our dogs need work and during the season we tend to opt for on-the-job training. This is tough to do while trying to scratch out limits with six buddies who all brought their dogs into the blind. Small-water hunts allow you and your dog to work together, and can be the perfect time to work on steadiness and other obedience issues.
There is a trend in waterfowl hunting as of lately that you’re lower than a cup of weasel spit if you can’t get a limit of whatever you’re hunting, whenever you’re hunting. We all know that’s bunk, but the perception is out there.
Small water isn’t usually the place to shoot so many ducks that your chest hair spontaneously sprouts out of your shirt collar in response to your manliness, but once-in-a-while it gets really good. A few years ago we got a lot of September rain, which flooded some lowland timber along a river near my house. Some of my public-land deer spots turned into duck spots as the low areas filled in and the acorns started dropping.
For days I slipped into that 10-acre duck magnet and shot plenty of birds. It didn’t matter if I went in at sunrise or noon either, the shooting was nearly as good either way. Occasionally the little water will yield big results.
Learning The Ropes
Peeling off another layer of this duck-hunting onion is the reality that not all of us are experts. I’m pretty sure that if I were to go head-to-head against a good caller or even a competent duck hunter I’d never be able to show my face in the local Cabela’s again. That’s a big reason why I don’t mind spending mornings on small water. I get to learn what ducks like to do.
For example, a couple of years ago I got permission to hunt a property with a small stream running through it. After a few sits on a cattail-covered point, my action dried up. I always carry binoculars when I’m hunting new water, so I started watching the sky.
I happened to catch sight of several small flocks of woodies dipping into a bend of the creek 250 yards from my spot. They had found a place to not get harassed where they could dine on acorns in relative peace until I sussed out their secrets.
The last, and probably my favorite reason to duck hunt small water, is that I can scout it. Easily. Let’s say I’ve got a series of beaver ponds to hunt, which I do in north-central Wisconsin. At certain times of the season they are devoid of fowl, other times the birds pour into them. It doesn’t take me much more than a 15-minute hike to glass them and see what is going on.
If they are empty today, I’ll check them next week or if the weather suddenly turns cold. I can know definitively whether I’ll be better off hunting somewhere, or something, else. As the father of twin four-year olds who doesn’t have unlimited duck-hunting time, that’s a big deal to me.
I can strike when the action is hot and can almost guarantee I won’t burn up my valuable duck-hunting time staring at empty skies.
Next time your’e faced with the choice of small or big water to duck hunt, think small,