There you sit, staring at an empty sky and an even emptier duck strap. It may be duck season and the Internet may be blazing with red-hot hunting reports and photos of grinning hunters with piles of greenheads, but not you. You're not killing ducks; the only thing you're killing is time. Is there anything more frustrating than that?
Some things — like a late migration or the fact that you live in a desert — can't be fixed. Your only option is to load up the truck and take a road trip to duck country. Other factors, however, fall squarely on your shoulders. Maybe you're hunting the wrong places, you don't know your gun, your decoys look like they came from a trailer park yard sale or your calling, well, leaves much to be desired. We won't even go there. Whatever the reasons, it's up to you to fix what's broken.
You Call Too Much
Who doesn't love to hear themselves work a duck call
? Visit a public marsh on opening day and it sounds like the warm-up hour at a kazoo convention. Real ducks don't often talk much and they certainly don't carry on like a three-year-old with his first call. Shut up, already.
'The biggest mistake I see is people calling when the ducks are already doing what they want them to do, ' Banded Calls brand manager Keith Allen, a 3-time World Champion Duck Calling Contest finalist, said.
Allen simply wants to get the birds' attention. If they are coming, he'll put the call down and see if they'll commit. If they turn away, he'll hit them again.
'Calling isn't as important if the ducks can see your decoys, ' he added. 'I'd rather call too little than too much in most situations. '
Your Decoys Are Dead
Watch a gang of real ducks sitting on a slick-calm pond and you'll see constant ripples, splashing and other commotion. Resting ducks don't sit still
. Neither should your decoys. Jerk cords, spinning-wing decoys, splashers, pulsators, wobblers, you name it, they all work. Allen, however, said there's a simpler solution.
'Put your decoys in the ripples. If your decoys are sitting in slick-calm water, move them to some water that's got ripples on it, ' he said. 'That's usually all it takes. Nothing does you in faster than a bunch of plastic ducks sitting on dead-calm water. A few decoys on a jerk cord won't do much good if the rest of your spread isn't moving. '
Your Decoys Look Fake
There was a time when duck hunters killed plenty of birds over a spread of beat-up, algae-covered decoys. You can still kill birds over grandpa's hand-me-downs, but why handicap yourself? Spend some money on high-quality, life-like decoys
and then treat them like they were made of fine China. They'll last a lifetime.
When you hunt, place them in a realistic spread. Spend this spring watching real ducks at a local refuge under various weather conditions. Are they scattered or bunched? Are they grouped by species? Too many duck hunters simply hurl the same three or four dozen decoys into the morning darkness without a thought of the spread's look or feel. Create a scene — one that looks inviting to passing ducks, by mimicking what real birds are doing.
Are you a creature of habit? Hunting the same spot with the same number of decoys may be easy, and it may have worked a month ago, but if you aren't killing ducks anymore, make a change.
Leave the spinning-wing decoy at home, for instance, or add a few more to your set-up. Scale down your spread or go bigger. If that doesn't work, pack up your decoys and strike out in search of new water on your favorite marsh or go find brand new territory on the other side of your state. If you aren't killing ducks, what's the harm in making some sort of change?
You Don't Know Your Gun Or Load
Do you know the capabilities of your gun
? You should, of course, but many of us have no idea what our shotguns and loads do at various distances
, but we shoot, shoot, shoot, anyway. Sky-busting doesn't just cripple ducks, it makes hunting difficult for everyone, as pressured birds refuse to come within shouting distance of a decoy spread.
Pattern your gun with a variety of loads, brands and chokes and at various distances. Come to terms with what your gun can and can't do. Do it before the season opens. Most of all, resist the urge to pull the trigger unless you are certain the duck will fall dead. Steel shot energy and velocity drop dramatically at 40 yards — and even more dramatically at 60. Don't count on a lucky pellet.
They Can See You
It doesn't matter if you hunt from a layout blind
in a Dakota corn field or some makeshift brush blind on a reservoir shoreline. The birds will flare if you don't blend in. More important, they'll see your bright face as you turn and spin and wiggle and fidget to follow the flock as they circle.
'You just have to sit still and stop looking up when there are ducks working, ' Brendemuehl said. 'I try to hide my face behind brush or I'll wear a face mask. If I'm hunting with others, one of us will watch the birds and call the shots while the rest keep their faces down. '
You Can't Shoot
You can't kill ducks if you can't hit them. Spend the off-season at the skeet or sporting clays range or even hire a pro for a few lessons, and to determine if your gun fits your body
. That could be a major reason you aren't shooting well.
If you have the option, set up your own clays range to simulate duck hunting scenarios. Sit on a bucket, shoot from a layout blind or stand in a cattail thicket as your buddy hurls clay pigeons past you. Wear your waders and all the clothing you might wear during duck season. There's no point in practicing in a T-shirt if you don't hunt in a T-shirt, is there?
Location, Location, Location
Water does not equal waterfowl. Obvious as it sounds, too many hunters toss out a decoy spread
and expect flocks of mallards and gadwalls to appear where a duck hasn't been seen since the Ice Age. Avery Outdoors territory manager Mark Brendemuehl won't even think about hunting a marsh or corn field unless birds are using that spot and good concentrations of ducks are in the area.
'I live in western Minnesota and we've got waterfowl production areas all over the place. There are a bunch that I've never seen a single duck on in all the years I've lived here, ' he said, 'but every year, I see someone hunting one of those spots. '
Find birds first, then hunt. Scout for hours, even days if that's what it takes. It's even more important to find birds if you don't live in traditional duck country.
You Don't Go
You've heard it before, you'll hear it again, because it's true: You won't kill ducks if you don't get out there. It doesn't matter if it's a bluebird morning or weather that gets every duck hunter's heart racing. There's no such thing as too cold, too hot, too calm, too dry or too wet to a hardcore duck hunter. They go every chance they get. Sometimes they blank. More often than not, though, they kill ducks.
'You learn something every time you go out, even if it's a lesson on what not to do, ' Brendemuehl said. 'The more you learn, the better you get and the better you get, the more ducks you'll kill. '