So much for crystal balls or foreseeing the future when it comes to duck hunting, last season’s forecast was a “bumper crop,”however, cooperation from the ducks left much to be desired.
I spent morning after morning in a cold, wet duck blind only to watch the sunrise. The upside being I had a lot of time to find the hole in my waders. I tried afternoon hunts with a hunting partner and lucked into a few resident birds.
“They’ll come down next week,” promised my partner. Next week never came.
We argued about selling the boat. I was on the fence until I talked with Wade Bourne of Ducks Unlimited TV. Bourne gave me a ray of hope, and I’m convinced his crystal ball is much clearer than mine.
“Season is looking really good. There are a lot of birds,” said Bourne, who relayed the annual survey showing a record number of breeding pairs. This is good news, but it’s not the entire picture. “Duckling production was high, perhaps as high as ever seen in modern times. The birds will be in the flyways and now the only thing we need is cold north winds to push them down,” said Bourne with a smile on his face. “I’ve never met a duck hunter who wasn’t optimistic.”
Bourne went on to explain last year’s anomaly.
“Last season was strictly a weather related phenomenon. The warm weather and no snow meant the ducks didn’t have to migrate. I haven’t seen official harvest records yet, but I know they were lower than normal. So a lot of birds went back to the prairie to breed.”
The New Hotspot
Bourne’s hotspot prediction for mid-America is the Bootheel region of Missouri, and what’s not to like, especially if you are a duck. Rice production in the region is at an all-time high and the Mississippi River is close by. Bourne believes the warmer weather is not driving the birds down the flyway as deep as it once did and shy of a major weather event the birds won’t be anytime soon. “Last season we had great numbers and the ducks stayed the entire season. I believe the Bootheel is pulling a lot of ducks out of Arkansas.
Five Secrets to Bourne’s Success
Being where the ducks want to be. If you can find the “X” where the ducks want to be and set up, you can make mistakes with decoys or mediocre calling,” said Bourne.
But how do find that X? “Scouting is everything,” answered Bourne. “That is if you are not tied to a spot. You need to scout both before and throughout the season, as well as, find the areas where the water and food conditions are conducive to holding birds and keep an eye on those places.”
The purpose of decoys. “When you drive across duck country the first thing you will notice are the white fronts of pintails if they are present. Ducks are no different; they see that white breast which draws attention a long way off. We often use speckled belly goose decoys in close proximity of our decoy spread, they are more visible than other decoys species,” he said.
How many decoys is enough? “Ideally, the number of decoys you can carry in the field is the right number. In a tight spot where the ducks are coming in, you don’t need a lot of decoys,” advised Bourne. “If the ducks are coming into a spot they expect other ducks to be there. They aren’t as wary.
Bigger is better… or is it? “I hunt the big spreads, we have several places where we have huge decoy spreads, but still I keep my Go-Devil boat and 24 of my best looking decoys in the boat with the blind attached and ready to go. If the water gets up on the Mississippi, I know where the ducks are and I will leave the big spreads to go hunt the back water,” he said. “After a big rain, I will drive to where the water ponds and when the water conditions are right, the ducks will be there. ”
An expert’s advice on wing spinners. “I like to use motion whether it’s a jerk line or a wing spinner, especially if I’m in an area where I have to get their attention like a flooded area or the bottoms,” explained Bourne. “Many hunters flip-flop on wing spinners; leave them on or turn them off when the ducks are coming in. I have experimented and found turning the wing spinner on and leaving it on especially in the big spreads gives the most consistent results.
“As far as when to use them, I use them the first day of the season and the last day,” continued Bourne. “I sometimes wish they were never invented. I feel they take away from my satisfaction to hunt some, but the trade- offs are too great and I guess I place a higher value on shooting than the satisfaction of decoying them in without the wing spinners. I’ve seen too many birds drawn to them.” Bourne suggests setting your wing spinner just in front of the opening where you want the ducks set and low to the water, “About two feet above the surface facing into the wind seems right.”
Calling is a fine talent, but it’s not always necessary. “If you have decoys out and are set up in a place where the ducks want to be, calling isn’t as important. When hunting close or small water, a simple five note call imitating a hen is plenty,” said Bourne. “In contrast, last season we called our lungs out. There were a lot of ducks and we were trying to get them to come in. We called loud and continuous. Suddenly, you would see a small group change their wing beat pattern and pitch toward us. There is nothing natural about the style of calling in that situation, but we are trying to get their attention, they’d look down see the water, a wing spinner, the decoys and a certain number of those birds would pitch to us.”
I’ve heeded Bourne’s advice and we’ve taken down the “For Sale” sign from the boat and I just finished patching those leaky waders. Now the waiting game begins, maybe the birds will be here next week.
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