How to Spot-and-Stalk Greenheads With Success
September 22, 2014
I checked the intermittent creek bed for deep holes still holding water and maybe a few ducks. Three fat October mallards tipped up-and-down in the shallows, oblivious to my presence.
I surveyed the terrain carefully and planned to close to 20 yards before looking over the bank. The two big greenheads were my target.
I crouched and tiptoed to where I'd last seen the birds and stopped for a second to focus, knowing the action would be fast. I rushed the edge of the creek bank and the ducks froze for a second, stunned and surprised by my presence, before leaping into the air with strong, deep wing beats.
They were 15 yards off the water by the time I shouldered my gun. A bird collapsed and fell to the prairie. I swung hard on the second drake and fired, missing low. My third was on target and crumpled the greenhead.
Secret to My Success
I was a young hunter then and that thrilling moment hooked me on duck hunting. Puddle jumping was practically the only way I could go out on my own when visiting relatives at their farm. I jumped lots of potholes and water channels as a kid. It is a standard practice in many areas of Canada where some hunters don't even own decoys, as the jump shooting can often be very productive.
Most of us seasoned waterfowlers dream of shooting a drake canvasback as it comes whistling into our layout boat, or a mallard with three curls in his tail feathers splaying out bright orange feet in the field. Truth be known, we developed our appreciation and value for waterfowl over many years.
When most of us started out, we mainly focused on the body count. For many young, inexperienced hunters getting up early to decoy morning flights isn't as attractive as sleeping in and still shooting their limit.
Many landowners and hunters in Canada's farm country feel strongly about not killing ducks or geese over water. They believe if you leave the birds alone, and give them the sanctuary of their favorite roost, they will stay around longer. When birds are pressured in the fields and on water, they simply migrate south to get away from the pressure.
In regions with significant amounts of hunting in agricultural fields, you will find it difficult to get permission to hunt the water. Anyone planning to hunt a wetland should make sure to ask landowners specifically about hunting water to avoid misunderstandings.
Time & Place
There are areas and specific times of the year when jump shooting can be productive and not affect birds in large numbers. For example, many quarter sections of land in the prairie and parkland regions have densities of 20 wetlands or more. With so many potholes in a half-mile of land, there's plenty of birds scattered on the different basins.
In irrigation country there are long, deep ditches that will hold birds throughout the fall. You can actually use a spotting scope to check out the linear wetlands, which can run for miles without a bend.
Dugouts in cattle pastures can be dynamite and borrow pits along the highways, where clay was extracted to build the roadbeds are sometimes incredible. These smaller basins only hold a handful of birds, so they're perfect for jump shooting. There could be a couple teal and gadwall on one and a few mallards and wigeon on the next.
It is extremely rare to catch geese on the smaller wetlands or irrigation channels, but when you do it will be a small family unit. In other words, you won't be messing up someone's field shoot by bumping birds out of their routine.
Take your Pick
Jump shooting allows you to shoot a mixed bag or a limit of big greenheads. It is a great confidence-builder for young shooters who enjoy the stalk as much as they do the shooting.
There are hunters who are against jump shooting, and like anything, it is a personal preference. I know lots of duck hunters who only shoot over water to get the most out of their dogs. Others only hunt agricultural fields. Some enjoy flushing and shooting ducks with their kids.
Does jump shooting have a place? I think so. I hunt with several young men. They have all the gear for hunting water and fields and spend thousands of dollars on gas spotting shoots and watching birds every night of the week. They are addicted to what most of us crave and want from a hunt, but almost all of them started by jumping ducks on local ponds.
Canada may be one of the few places left with enough open spaces, access to land, and opportunity to allow hunters the chance to jump shoot. If you want to hook somebody on the sport perhaps a stalk might make them ask to join the next day's field shoot.
Then, it's only a matter of time before they start to admire their quarry and appreciate the rewards of a good hunt.
It's no wonder Louisiana
leads the country in overall duck harvests. Bayou State hunters killed about 2.8 million birds in 2012, more than twice as many as were harvested Arkansas. That's due in part because where the Mississippi Delta meets the Gulf of Mexico is an endless swamp, a sea of marshes, backwaters, grass flats and other first-rate duck habitat. It helps that the birds can't go any farther south without crossing the Gulf of Mexico, of course, but they can go all the way to the tip of the boot to 115,000-acre Pass a Loutre WMA or nearby Delta NWR. Both offer great freelancing opportunities. Other WMAs are generously scattered throughout the region.
ACE Basin, South Carolina
Mild winters can mean slow days in the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Basin, but teal and resident wood ducks always seem to make an appearance at a couple of public areas in the ACE Basin. Strong cold fronts can bring in a mix of big ducks, though, and buffleheads and other divers show up on the salt marsh in good numbers, too. Located in South Carolina's Low Country, the ACE is a mix of seasonally-flooded bottomlands, salt and brackish marsh and mixed upland forest. The best hunting tends to be on well-managed private ground, but hunting is permitted on 12,000-acre Hollings ACE Basin NWR, as well as a couple of managed state lands
through a lottery.
Arkansas Public Timber
Call it combat hunting or call it one of the best public opportunities in duck country. Whatever you want to call any number of Arkansas' public green timber areas, you can count on lots of company and gobs of ducks when the birds show up. Places like Rainey Brake WMA or White River NWR offer thousands of acres of knee-deep water. Get there early. Word travels fast and locals and out-of-staters alike all jockey for a hole in the trees. Some hunters can get a bit, um, carried away in their desire to stake out a patch of timber, but most play nice. Toss out a small spread, kick the water and call, call, call to mallards winging just above the tree tops.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Beaver Dam, Mississippi
If you listen closely, you might hear the ghost of Nash Buckingham hitting a few high balls followed by the booming of Bo Whoop, his AH Fox double, echoing through the cypress trees. Okay, maybe not. But if you want to get a taste of what the legendary waterfowler and writer experienced back in the day, head to Beaver Dam, a 1,200-acre oxbow lake near Tunica, Mississippi. Gadwalls are the primary species, but mallards and woodies are abundant, as well. Access, however, isn't. There are no public access points on the lake, but a handful of guides
can lead you on a hunt that steps back in time.
Central California Refuge Hunts
Four refuges that make up the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge System
are open to hunting, offering a mixed-bag opportunity in a region brimming with ducks. Refuge access is gained through a handful of methods, including reserving a date in advance, applying through a lottery or by standing in the 'œsweat line' where hunters wait to fill no-show slots. Hunters average two to four birds per day, not bad for heavily-hunted public ground. The rules are strict, but hunt a couple of times and you'll feel like a regular.
The Dakotas are duck hunting heaven, but they aren't the only states in the Prairie Pothole Region that offer fantastic hunting for unpressured birds. The wide-open spaces of eastern Montana are laced with rivers and dotted with stock ponds and potholes. Even better, public opportunities are abundant. About 2.5 million acres of private land on 322 properties is enrolled in the state's Block Management Program in Region 7, which covers about , and another 3.8 million acres of land is owned by the federal or state government. Much of it is open to public hunting.
Central North Dakota
Limits may be higher and crowds a bit lighter, but if you don't want the hassle of hunting Canada, hunt south of the border in North Dakota. Public opportunities on waterfowl production areas
abound and private land that isn't posted is also open to hunting without permission. Even posted land can be accessed by knocking on a few doors and asking politely. North Dakota may be the last best place for duck hunters. Early-season birds aren't always in full color, but action can be red-hot before the countless potholes freeze. Later, focus on corn fields near big water.
Great Salt Lake
Mud motors and airboats dominate the Great Salt Lake duck hunting scene
, but when the access areas freeze solid, airboats rule. Roar across the ice and snow towards open water, stick a hundred duck silhouettes in the shallow mud bottom and toss out a few dozen decoys. When the birds are in, the action can be crazy. Hunting is done from layout blinds or coffin tubs, low plastic tubs that allow you to keep a low profile while staying dry. Some hunters hide in the vegetation close to open water. Limits of green-wing teal, spoonies, goldeneyes and other species are common.
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
Few areas have as much waterfowling history as Maryland's Eastern Shore. Few ducks are part of the region's culture as the canvasback. Captain Jeff Coats
specializes in sea ducks and Chesapeake Bay divers and puts his clients on canvasbacks regularly. A variety of other species like long-tailed ducks, redheads, bluebills fill out the bag, and even the occasional mallard or black duck make an appearance on the open water. Visit the Ward Museum
in Salisbury after a morning hunt, or make the trek across the Bay to the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum
on your way home.
Rhode Island Sea Ducks
It's tough to choose a single destination for sea ducks. Scoters and eiders are abundant up and down much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Alaska has some of the most diverse species available, but getting there? Plan on spending a small fortune. Instead, head to Rhode Island, which doesn't get the pressure other New England states can get. Not only does it offer an abundance of ducks in a laid-back atmosphere, it's legal to hunt on Sunday, something Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut can't say. Do-it-yourself hunts are an option, but big water calls for experience and a guide
can put you on birds in short order.