Most of my duck spots are public, just like most of my bowhunting spots are public. What this means is that a significant portion of my fall is spent on ground open to anyone. And because of that, I've gotten awful good at ferreting out the spots others won't work to get to, or simply don't know about.
Now, that comes with a caveat considering I live in the Twin Cities – there are just some areas where there aren't any secrets left. And if there are enough willing hunters around, a certain percentage of them will work just as hard – or harder – than you to get to the good hunting.
With the playing field leveled in such a way, it becomes a lot more difficult to work around the competition, but not all hope is lost. There are still some ways to hedge your bets while hunting ducks on common ground, but you'll need to plan ahead.
Wednesdays Are Best
The reality is that most of the hunters will be out on Saturday and Sunday. Hunting pressure for ducks – and pretty much all game – flows into full volume on the weekend and ebbs mid-week. What does this mean for you?
Well, you'd better go to your boss and your spouse with your cap in hand and eyes cast downward and plead your case for some time to yourself during the middle of the week. This will do a couple of things for you.
First and most obvious, you'll have fewer sky-blasters out in your spots. The fewer the hunters in your immediate area, the better your hunting will be. Now, there is an argument that more hunters out in general puts more birds in the air, and that is true in certain situations, but it doesn't mean they are going to fly over the public ground you're on. They will, more often than not, suss out as only pressured ducks can, the water where no one is hunting.
This effect, which brings to mind no-hunting refuges with rafts of greenheads flipping off distant hunters, can also push birds into places that can be hunted but just aren't being disturbed currently like public land in the middle of the week. This is the beauty of migrators, because they don't get to know the local hunting pressure the same way resident ducks do. The places these ducks settle are best hunted on a Wednesday or Thursday morning when those lulled-into-a-false-sense-of-security birds are yours for the taking if you can find a few free mornings while the rest of the working stiffs are suiting up and heading to their cubicles and job sites.
A few years ago, a buddy and I tucked into a wooded berm near some flooded backwaters hoping to catch the last of the wood ducks or a random greenhead passing overhead. We knew the best in our setup was to pass-shoot them as they cleared the treeline and most likely, spotted us. The hope was that it would be too late by the time they figured out their waterhole was being guarded by a couple of dudes holding 12 gauges and an eager black Lab.
We did manage a drake and a hen wood duck in the spot, and we also got to witness what not to do duck-wise. Two hunters had slipped into a pond 400 yards from our setup. Instead of tucking into the brush at the edge and trying to hide, they stood at the top of a hill and sent three shots apiece at any duck within a football field's distance of where they stood.
Even if you get out mid-week, you've still got to figure out the best way to hunt your spots on public. The ducks that cruise through the airspace overhead will undoubtedly be a bit cautious, because that's just how they operate. How you should operate is to figure out each spot and where you should be set up. Maybe you can build a sweet blind in the brush, or maybe you've just got to count on getting the jump on them when they finally clear the closest trees and give you those few precious seconds as they try to flare out of the way of your pattern.
Really Camo Up
This is a simple one, but so many of the duck hunters I run into on public land seem to take a half-hearted approach camo-wise. It's as if they either don't know what they are doing, or have given up most of their hope for a decent hunt long before they actually go. Honestly, there is probably a lot of both going on.
Either way, camo up. Use a facemask or face paint and make an attempt to keep hidden if at all possible. Don't give those common-ground ducks the extra advantage of a poorly-hidden or poorly covered hunter unless the spot just doesn't allow for much else. You're working hard to earn the birds in this situation, at least make them work somewhat hard to survive any encounter with you.
Public-land ducks can be tough, but there are plenty of ways to hedge your bets and ensure that you'll have better hunts than most of your competition. You might not limit out on greenheads every time you step out of the truck in the dark, but you'll have a good chance of having a better-than-average hunt and just might end up with some of the most satisfying ducks any hunter can take in any given year, and that's not nothing.