August 09, 2022
We’ve all been there at one point or another, and unless you’re locked into a lease, this may be a regular occurrence for us public land duck and goose hunters. You’re driving up to the field, motoring across the lake, paddling up the pond, or wading into the marsh, and when you get to your destination, there’s already another group setting up shop. In an instant, you’re ready to fire off with an explosion of expletives because you scouted the day before, posted your sign, or built your blind, but this is public land hunting and it’s an “anything goes” free-for-all. But before you erupt into a flurry of foul language, there are a few possible solutions to consider in resolving this public land predicament in a positive, and even more productive way.
Two are better than one and banding together can sometimes be a win-win for all public land parties. This tactic tends to work best for smaller groups and single add-ons, as well as early and late season smash fests when birds are eager to dump into the decoys. Everyone involved here needs to be a bit willing to make some compromises, put away their egos, and let the cards fall as they may. Provided you don’t have to sacrifice the hide and everyone will generally see equal shot opportunities, there can be some real benefits to calling a truce and collaborating.
In my experiences, one group calling at a flock of incoming birds is always better than two—save the competition for the stage. A single group shooing at birds should also be able to work them in closer for better shots and won’t overly educate them like a group of two raining shot down on each other might. Of course, there’s some additional incentives to comingle, like swapping stories, teaching new tactics, and sharing decoy duty after the hunt. You never know what you might find in the end, and you might even get a “next time, let’s hunt mine!” if it all goes well.
There are times when the guys and gals from the opposing group haven’t learned the schoolyard sandbox “play nice together” lesson and with the writing on the wall, it’s time to head to Plan B—you have a backup spot right!? It might be in the same proximity at a safe and comfortable distance away without setting up right on top of them—please don’t be that group that thinks 30 yards is far enough away. Setting up too close to another group is usually an act of innocent inexperience by completely green hunters—there is a teachable moment here for anyone willing to have a cordial chat—or an act of aggression, with busting each other’s birds and subsequent raining down of shot strings. There’s little good that can come from a hunt when it heads this direction.
If you got beat to the better spot, you may need to pull the plug and venture to a secondary setup that has the potential to produce birds, or at least give you a little privacy off the beaten path to recuperate. Public land hunters should always have backups and have some go-to alternates ready. Dig into the depths of your records from the last time you had to call an audible and adjust on the fly. This may also signal that it’s time to go exploring and try a new spot nearby because you’re not ready to throw in the towel for the day.
Come Back Later
If you showed up in second place and have to bugger off and Plans B and C came up short, there’s nothing wrong with cutting your losses to plan and come back another time. You might even be able to salvage the day by coming back late morning or in the afternoon once the first group finds their limit or calls it quits. Many locations are productive throughout the day, providing birds abundant food or shelter cover. Make the most of your mid-morning wait by scouting some other nearby locations, see what intel you can gather about bird activity as well as what other hunting parties are doing in the area.
And don’t forget you can always come back another day or even later in the season once the warm weather, weekend warriors have traded their waders and scatterguns for tree stands and rifles. Keep an eye on the weather forecast during the peak migration and put in for that PTO when the weatherman calls for cold fronts. You’ll be smiling in style when all those other suckers are stuck at their desk watching out their windows and wishing they were hunting.
Public land duck and goose hunting doesn’t always have to lead to pandemonium. We’re fortunate to have abundant and accessible public wetlands and marshes to hunt. Playing into a little psychology, being willing to adapt to adversity, and having solid back up plans will ensure that you’ll always have somewhere to hunt, no matter what you encounter first thing in the morning.