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Overlooked Tips For Successful Duck Hunting During The Offseason

Preparing For Duck Hunting Next Year

 

Depending on how your duck, goose and, if you take part, snow goose seasons are going will most likely determine how bad you may, or may not, want the season to end.  Regardless of the aforementioned scenarios, there is going to be an offseason.  For us, this particular time happens between the middle of March after the last push of snow geese head north, to September 1st when early Teal and Canada goose seasons come back in.  Those five or so months between the seasons can potentially make or break how your next season will go.  As a group of perpetual freelance hunters, it is becoming harder every year to be successful on a continual basis and the offseason is where preparing for the next season plays a HUGE role in our success. 

Just because you can’t go duck hunting for another five months or so, does not mean you shouldn’t be preparing for the next season.  Some of the things that we do shortly after the season closes to prepare for next season is 1) clean our decoys; 2) completely disassemble our guns for a very thorough cleaning; 3) shoot clay birds; 4) keep in contact with landowners that gave us permission to previously hunt their land and make contact with other farmers in areas that we would like to hunt; and 5) constantly practice with our duck and goose calls.

1. Cleaning Decoys

After a long season of hunting in the many weather conditions duck hunting will throw your way, your decoys are bound to be covered in mud, I know ours were! As tedious as cleaning decoys may sound, it’s an imperative step to assuring a better chance at getting birds to light in your spread, or, as the duck hunting legend Jim Ronquest says, “[P]ut their boots on.” To clean your decoys, it can be as simple as spraying them off with the water hose and wiping them off with a towel. It’s recommended that you DO NOT use soap when cleaning your decoys as this can leave a shine on the finish. After your decoys have dried off, be sure to carefully store them in a good decoy bag in a dry area. If you don’t store them in a good decoy bag, you will probably have to rinse them off again because of dust accumulation. You’ve most likely spent A LOT of money on your decoys, so you may as well make sure you take care of them. By following these steps, you’ll have fresh looking decoys and save yourself a lot of money in the future.

2. Gun Maintenance and Cleaning

There’s nothing worse than going out on opening morning than shouldering your gun to take your first duck or goose of the season and pulling the trigger just to hear your gun “click,” or having your gun fail to cycle for a follow up shot.  Chances are, you have also spent A LOT of money on your prized duck hunting gun, and they need a little TLC after a long, hard and grueling season.  Take your gun apart, scrub it clean of residue buildup in your trigger mechanism, action, chamber and barrel.  You will need to lightly oil the metal and moving parts of the gun to prevent rust and to ensure a smooth operating gun on that first pull of the trigger on your duck hunting opener.  

3. Practice Shooting

Not all of us have the uncanny ability to pick up our guns on day one and shoot perfectly like shooting champion Tom Knapp.  Unless you think you offer Tom Knapp a good challenge at shooting, it is recommended that you practice during the offseason by shooting some clays.  Granted, clay birds aren’t going to be presented similar to how a duck lands, but getting a group of friends together to shoot trap, skeet or sporting clays will go a long way on your duck hunting days.  Shooting clays will give you more practice on leading birds and following through on your shot.   

4. Private Land Duck Hunting

Landowners play an absolutely critical role in successful freelance duck hunting.  Without them, and their willingness to allow duck hunting, us freelancers would be left to state owned ground like Rend Lake or Pyramid State Park, which can often be overcrowded and divvy up staked hunting areas by a daily lottery draw.  Be sure to thank your land owners for the opportunity to duck hunt their land. A common, and courteous, thing to do is offer them some of the meat from birds you harvest.  If the landowner is the farmer as well, offer to help out on the farm a weekend or two.  Some may call me crazy, but, farmers are reluctant to allow hunting.  They’re often afraid of potential liability lawsuits if someone were to get hurt on their property, and rightfully so.  If you’re really serious about it, you can even have a liability waiver drawn up and signed to ensure that the landowner is protected in the unfortunate event someone does get hurt on their property.   Also, the offseason is the perfect time to introduce yourself to other farmers/landowners of properties you would like to duck hunt, in particular, during planting and harvesting seasons.  As states are short on cash, particularly our home state of Illinois, which prohibits them from maintaining duck hunting ground with the right amount of food sources and rest areas, landowners are saviors to us freelance duck hunters.  

5. Practice Your Duck Calls

Duck hunting offers a unique experience that not many other types of hunting can.  Duck hunting is dependent upon your ability to convince a duck, or a group of ducks, that your fake ducks are making inviting and realistic duck sounds that coerces them to come on down and hang out.  The level of deceit achieved during a successful trip amazes me every time and is part of what keeps me coming back every season.  A critical piece of the deceitful puzzle is the ability to sound like a duck.  I haven’t met a single duck hunter that picked up a duck call on day one and sounded like Hunter Grounds or Chad Belding, so practice IS necessary, just ask them and they’ll say the same thing.  It is critical to successful duck hunting to practice your duck calling skills and the offseason is the perfect time to do it.  I drive 30 minutes each way to and from work, so this is when I practice on my duck calls (and it drives my fiancé absolutely crazy when I do it at the house and she’s home).  I’m not saying you need to practice for hours every day, but pick 10 to 15 minutes of your free time in the truck and you will become a better duck caller. When it all boils down, there really is no “offseason” between duck hunting seasons as there are many things to do to help prepare you for a successful next season.  Follow these often overlooked tips during the metaphorical offseason and your hard work is bound to pay off with more successful duck hunting days in the blind.  

Duck Hunting and the Weather: What’s the Forecast for Success?

Duck hunting is very dependent on the weather. The best success can be had on a day where a front accompanied by large temperature drop moves through. The drop in temperature forces ducks to migrate south. Duck hunters dream of migrating ducks because they usually offer the best opportunity as coming home with limits. On days where the weather is calm ducks are far less active and success can be poor. On days with sun, hunters must be careful no reduce anything that might reflect the sunlight such as their face. Cloudy days are shiny objects are far less problematic. Freezing weather forces many ducks south, but some will ride out the harsh conditions. The ducks that do stay around become concentrated in areas of open water with nearby food sources. They are forced to feed multiple times in a day which offers hunters more opportunities at success. Duck hunting in the fog can be as tough as fair weather. A hunter must call frequently to let ducks know they’re there. Without calling, you’re waiting on a to randomly drop into sight. Calling, then listening is the best tactic to use. Adapting to these weather conditions can help you to have successful duck hunting. Just because the forecast looks poor for duck hunting, doesn’t mean you should sleep in. In duck hunting, there are no guarantees!

Am I Concealed Enough When Duck Hunting?

Concealment is one of the most important factors in successful duck hunting. In order to pull birds in close, the hunters must blend with the surroundings. Whether it a corn field from a layout blind, a levee on a flooded rice field, or a secluded pocket of a lake, taking time to blend into the native vegetation will help draw ducks into range. Layout blinds must be mudded to reduce shine and hunters should spend time before the hunt using the native vegetation to break up the outline of their blind. Boat blinds need a dark base color on both the inside and outside of the blind. You also need to utilize elements from the environment you’re hunting in. Cattails, young willow trees, or entire stalks of corn can be fastened to the outside of the blind. Be sure to cut shooting lanes to allow shots at ducks flying by, but don’t make them so big that they ruin your hide. Pit blinds, while 90% hidden already still need work done to the top. When duck hunting, birds have an aerial view and can see right down into the pit. The top or lids of the pit must be concealed. Using vegetation from around the are will help the hide, but you must also remember to keep the lid closed as much as possible to keep from being seen. These are just a few tips you can use next season in order to fool weary ducks and improve your duck hunting.

Waterfowl Migration – February 7, 2012

Waterfowl Migration

Mild weather across much of the Mississippi Flyway sent a waterfowl migration northward this past week.  The snow geese began their northward push to the Arctic Circle and many ducks started moving out of southern parts of the flyway as the temperatures warmed.  The mild weather is now gone and the northward waterfowl migration will likely halt for the time being.  The forecast calls for the cold to stick around for the coming days and there are even talks of snow in the next week.  This could send the snow geese back south if the snow falls in the correct location.  Duck season are closed across the country, but there are still a few late goose seasons that will end shortly. Our waterfowl reports will focus on snow geese for the rest of the season.

 

Snow Goose Migration

Many snow geese were reported to spend their winter in northern parts of Missouri and Illinois.  Luckily there are millions of them and a few hundred thousands that never made it down shouldn't hurt hunter success too much.  The birds that stayed north were likely mostly adults which are tough to kill any ways.  We've had large numbers of snows in central and south central Illinois through the month of January.  The largest concentration of snows began showing the past two weeks.  Many snow goose conservation seasons opened last week and it coincided well with a warm snap that got many snow geese headed north.  The snow goose migration will likely be spread out this year.  Large concentrations of adult birds will travel north as fast as they can until they reach the snow/ice line.

 

 

waterfowl migration

*Courtesy of Nation Snow Anlyses

The younger birds that typically bring up the rear of the migration will trickle north over the course of the next few weeks.  Reports of pockets of juvies are littered throughout Arkansas.  Hunters might not be seeing huge numbers of birds, but what they do see are workable and they're enjoying great success.  Further north, where flocks consist of mostly adult birds, success is sporadic. The snow goose hunting hot spot, Squaw Creek, in northwest Missouri was already holding nearly 400,000 snows at the end of January.

Squaw Creek Waterfowl Survey

*Courtesy of MDC

The Fowled Reality crew scouted central Illinois on January 31st and witnessed huge numbers of snow geese throughout many square miles.  We found the largest group on the ground and got permission for the field to open the conservation snow goose season.  Conditions were tough the first two days with a mix of little wind and foggy mornings.  When the sun shined and the wind blew, the birds worked the best.  We harvested 41 snow geese in three days to start the conservation season.

 

 

waterfowl migration

Time will tell if birds either get pushed back south due to snow and cold or we get enough birds bringing up the rear to warrant the hours of setting a 1000 decoy spread.  The numbers of geese we saw over the course of three days seemed to nearly cut in half each day.  Birds were active early and late in the day.  Through mid day, some large flocks of mile high birds were headed north.  In normal years we can hunt them through February and into early March.  With the weather conditions this year, it will likely be cut short barring a weather change.  If you're located in Missouri and Illinois, now is the time to assemble the spread and turn on the caller.  The migration is on!  And it might not last long.

waterfowl migration

 

Waterfowl Migration – January 11, 2012

Cold and Snow to force waterfowl migration south

The forecast calls for a sharp drop in temperatures starting tonight and continuing through the next few days.  We are finally going to get the cold to link up with the moisture and produce snow to get the waterfowl migration in full swing!  Winter weather advisories and winter storm watches have been posted for for parts of Iowa, northern Illinois, and Wisconsin.  Three to eight inches of snow is on the way along with sub-freezing temperatures and 30-40 mph northwest winds.  Sounds like a good recipe for a waterfowl migration!  One to three inches of snow could fall as far south as I-70.

Duck Hunting

The close to the south central waterfowl hunting zone in Illinois passed quietly earlier this week.  It started off very well, but quickly went sour shortly into December.  There are lots of factors that went into it: spring flooding wiping out a lot of moist soil vegetation, lack of long lasting cold and arctic fronts during the season, and the continued shift west of the Mississippi Flyway.  Missouri is doing more for their ducks than Illinois.  Naturally they're figuring out where the most food is and that's where they are going.  With all that being said, all hope is not lost!  We can still hunt ducks in the south zone of Illinois.  An early morning report we received from some friends in southern Illinois is new ducks are already showing up ahead of the latest front.  They've already killed 18 birds by 9AM.  Expect more fresh ducks to continue to show the next few days with a hard freeze and snow coming!

waterfowl migration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goose Hunting

The Fowled Reality crew expects the goose hunting to finally pick up in the coming days.  The same front that has the ducks on the move should get the geese active as well!  There are hit and miss reports of good numbers from I-72 all the way to Illinois/Wisconsin border.  We expect the numbers to increase substantially as the remaining birds in Wisconsin finally get pushed south in the coming days.  The question is, just how far south with the go?  They need open water to roost and an uncovered food source. The forecast looks like they'll have to travel pretty far south to find an open food source and water should start locking up quickly starting tomorrow.

 

Waterfowl Migration

The snow combined with the wind will make scouting throughout the northern 2/3's of Illinois nearly impossible on Thursday, but come Friday it's time to hit the road and see just how far south the honkers are going to travel.  We'll be covering a large area from south of I-70 all the way to I-74 in hopes of finding geese.  With highs Friday in the low to mid 20's, waterfowl will have to be feeding on hot food rather than the subdivisions and lake grass they've been on so far this season.  Combine that with the full moon to look for afternoon feedings.  Water is going to lock up fast and should stay that way for the forseeable future!  Another system is in the cards early next week which should continue to send the waterfowl migratino southward across portions of the Mississippi Flyway.  Good luck this weekend!

 

For waterfowl migration reports from around the country.