Waterfowl tips that help improve your success in the field.

Late Season Waterfowl Hunting

Late season waterfowl hunting can be tough. As we enter the homestretch of the duck and goose seasons across the US, the birds are educated!  Especially in our part of Illinois due to the lack of new birds in close to a month.  The few birds we do have around have seen every spread known to man and heard every note a duck call can produce.  They've been hunted hard since September in Canada.  Here are a few tricks that we've used over the past few years to entice leery late season waterfowl into our spread.  Hopefully this will improve our and your late season waterfowl hunting.


1. Concealment is key

It doesn't matter what your spread looks like or how great of a caller you are if you aren't hidden.  The birds have seen if all for four months. On opening day you can catch them by surprise. At this point in the season it's time to for extra
effort to get hidden.  Re-mud your layout blinds, add more grass, and spend extra time grabbing field litter from the location your hunting to make your blinds disappear.  We've also gone as far as digging holes to set blinds in if the ground is
suitable.  When birds appear, make sure everyone is fully inside their blinds no matter how tempting it is to peer out to find the birds.  Just like layout blinds, pits need re-worked too.  You've walked into and out of them dozens if not hundreds
of times so far this season.  The brush you had around your pit has been matted down and muddy ground has been exposed.  Gather some more stalks or stubble to sprinkle around the pit. Throw some extra decoys around the holes and wear a
facemask and gloves to stay hidden while waterfowl hunting.

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Extra stalks on the blind….

2. Change the decoy spread for better waterfowl hunting

On days we feel we will pick up migrating waterfowl, we will use every decoy we can find in order to work new birds to the area. We'll stick with that spread for a few days after the birds arrive, but after that we'll change it up to a smaller
spread, especially if other setup in the area continue to run large spreads.  The Fowled Reality crew likes to be different!  There are days where refuge spreads work awesome, other days it doesn't matter if you have 500 decoys out there.


3. Adapt to the conditions

Late season waterfowl hunting is usually characterized by cold weather…..except for this year. When the snow and ice is on, sleep shells are dynamite!  It's also beneficial to use shells or full bodies placed directly on the snow.  As soon as a bird lands, it'll lay down to melt the snow to gain access to food.  We'll mix in some full bodies on stands, but the majority of our decoys will be placed directly on the snow/ice.  We'll also kick the snow around the spread to make it appear as though birds have been moving around feeding in the field.  We'll try to disturb the field the most in the kill hole to trick the birds into thinking that is the best spot to feed.  During the coldest days, we'll pack the decoys tight, but on warmer days, we'll space them out more.

waterfowl hunting






Shell and sleeper shell decoys on snow

4. Use different calling

Waterfowl hunting this late in the season the birds have heard it all.  Give them something you think they might not have heard yet.  This might mean giving them nothing at all.  We like to let the birds approach and see how they react.  If they start working
the decoy spread on their own, then we'll let them do their thing.  If they fly by without looking, then we'll start calling to them.  If you're lucky enough to get them turned, pay attention to what note they turned on and keep hitting them with it.
If you call at them upon first seeing them, keep it subtle.  So many hunters throw everything but the kitchen sink at them.  From high balls, to comeback calls and spit notes. These birds are used to it all.  Throw a single quack or goosey cluck
at them and see how hey react.  If they turn, stay on them what you've been doing.  Pay close attention to the birds and read them.  Now is the most important time of year to pay attention to what they're doing.  The ducks and geese will tell you
what they want to hear or if they want nothing.

5. Scout

Try like heck to find where birds are feeding and not being pressured.  Spend the drive time looking for out of the way places where birds have got comfortable. You're kind of looking for a needle in a haystack at this point in the year, but
it can always be done.  If you find a spot like this and gain access, make sure to go the extra mile to get concealed.  You know they birds are coming and you have to make it look like no one is there waiting on them.  If we're lucky enough to find a spot
like this, we'll go with a small, realistic spread of fully flocked decoys to help conceal the blinds, spend and extra hour brushing blinds, and call sparingly. Make it look like a few early arrivers are already in the field and let the rest of them
drop in.  If you can't get access, but have found a good number of birds, find the flight line they're using, get hidden and show them everything.  They're used to feeding somewhere else, but your trying to get them to go elsewhere.  If your on
the flight line, they'll at least fly over so you have to get them to stop.


For more waterfowl hunting tips check out our other posts.



Knocking on doors to gain access to ducks

One of the toughest issues many waterfowl hunters face is gaining access to land.  You always have the public land option where there’s a mad dash for spots, other groups set up 100 yards from you and shoot at your working ducks 150 yards up.  We’ve dealt with this and I’m sure most other guys have too.  Gaining access to private land is a tough opposition especially for someone who knows nothing about the area.  Years ago, farmers were generally care  free when it came to granting permission, but in this day and age they’re worried about the liability brought my having hunters with guns on their properties.  It helps tremendously if you are familiar with the area and the people who live there.

That brings me to this past week.  With the Thanksgiving holiday, I was back in my hometown with friends and family.  Since I was going to be up there for a few days, I was bound and determined to locate some birds and hopefully be able to hunt.  On Thanksgiving morning, I picked up Scott at 6AM and away we went.  After 2 hours and over 100 miles of driving, we finally located some birds.  They were using a field we saw birds in two weeks earlier.  We tried like heck to find the landowner, but the listed owner in the plat book was nowhere to be found.  We watched the birds hit that field again that afternoon and again on Friday.  Friday afternoon, we were determined to figure out a way to hunt them.  As we’re sitting there filming thousands of mallards, we noticed a guy leaving his house, so we stopped to talk to him.  Luckily I knew the guy and he was very helpful on our search and told us where the new landowner lived.  5 miles later, we were knocking on a door.  The guy was very nice, but said someone was already hunting his ground.  He told us who the guy was and said to go talk to him and if he’s not hunting tomorrow, then we were welcome to go.  On to door number two….. Another great guy who loved to talk waterfowl.  He wasn’t hunting Saturday, told us good luck, and that other people who have tried hunting these birds hadn’t been successful.
Saturday afternoon we set up about 2, filmed some interviews, and covered the blinds in stalks.  By 3, the rain began and the idea of filming was gone.  Shortly after the rain started, the first group was on the way.  We never had to blow a call.  They came off the roost, got within a half mile, and locked in.  The second wave was a little more finicky.  They made a few passes, a few singles dropped out and landed in the decoys, but the majority of the birds were trying to land wide.  On their fourth pass we knocked out four in the lowest group of 300+ mallards.  Unfortunately, the rest of the thousands of birds decided to not even give us a sniff.  I’m guessing they were used to hitting this field that already had hundreds if not thousands of birds in it. Our spread of 6 dozen wasn’t enough to trick them into joining.  We ended up drenched, but the 7 we killed were worth the effort and hopefully we’ll be able to gain access again.  The birds in this area don’t get much pressure and their roost generally stays open water until the deep cold hits in January.

We were very lucky to gain access to this field. We’ve tried for years to get in this area and all the hard work and road time finally paid off.  A handshake, introduction, and a smile go a long way.  It also help having a few contacts in the area that can help point you in the right direction and allow you to drop some known names when it comes time to asking the magic question.  If you’re looking to gain access to private land, make sure to always talk to the landowner in person if possible and do so during daylight hours.  No one likes an unexpected knock on their door in the dark.  Always thank the landowner for their time regardless of gaining access or not.  Be sure to report back to them on how you do and be sure to offer some meat to them as a show of appreciation.  It doesn’t always come together like this, but it never hurts to try!