Duck hunting success can be largely determined by the weather. Duck hunters dream of that strong cold front that rolls in from the north. The cold front where you can see the dark line of clouds that distinguishes the wind change and precipation that accompanies a front. Duck hunting on days like this can be some of the best hunting of the year. As the days after the front moves through, high pressure settles in and clear skies prevail. The duck hunting starts to get tougher and tougher, but why? Let’s take a look at some different weather conditions we all face while in the field or on the water and how to maximize your opportunities in each.
Storms that send ducks south
By storms, I don’t mean thunderstorms. I mean a weather system or a front. Usually during duck season it’s a cold front. Some can have a little more punch than others and these are the fronts that duck hunters look for. As Fall turns to Winter, cold air begins to build in Canada. The cold air begins eliminating food sources and available water for roosting. Some ducks can sense it’s coming and will migrate just ahead of the front or right with it leading to awesome duck hunting. A few years back, there was a cold front accompanied by a sharp 30 degree drop. This front rolled through central Illinois about 730 one early December morning. You could see the dark bank of clouds move in from almost straight north. As the bank of clouds got closer, the giant flocks of ducks and some geese riding the front were easy to pick out. These birds could feel the front coming and knew that if they stayed north food and water would very soon be gone. They took advantage of the strong wind and maximized their ability to fly south. Duck hunting on days like this can be awesome! If at some point during the day a strong front is forecast to come through, you better do everything in your power to be out there with a gun in hand. Not only will ducks likely be riding the front, but any other ducks in the area should be active as gusty winds keep water churned up and locations where a bird could stay out of the wind are constantly changing. Migrating ducks are a duck hunters dream. They’re hungry, tired, and not familiar with the area. Here is a duck hunting video that took place during the passage of sharp cold front.
Freezing weather duck hunting
Freezing weather goes hand in hand with a stout cold front. Cold weather means fozen water and less area for ducks to dabble and roost. This is what forces many ducks to make their move south, but there are always some old, wise ducks that stick it out as long as they can. They are resourceful and find tiny pockets of open water and locate carb loaded food sources to help get them through the cold. As the duck season progresses and the weather gets colder and colder, areas for duck hunting become limited, but so do the areas a duck can be. Your job is to find those little pockets where ducks hang out during cold times and find a way to either get near it or hunt on it. Years ago, this tactic was much much more succesful. Now, there are “hot tubs” or power plants lake seemingly everywhere that always have open water. Hunting near these can can be good, but they offer a large area for birds to go. A spring fed bend in a creek that seems to always have open water would be ideal because of the small area. It might not hold as many birds as the power plant lake, but they will be more concentrated in the creek.
In cold weather, carbs are king! An excellent source of carbs for a duck to battle the cold weather is corn. If you can’t find that small nook of open water holding ducks, and can’t hunt the power plant lake with open water, then find a field they’re feeding in. The cold weather forces ducks to increase their food intake. The calories they consume are the fuel they need to stay warm in extreme temperatures. In order to get what they need, they’ll likely feed twice during the day giving duck hunter more opportunities at success.
Arguably some of the worst conditions for duck hunting. When it’s nice outside, ducks are lazy. No wind means calm water all over for them to raft up on and if they do give your spread a look, they’ll likely be reluctant because of the lack of movement. The best you can do is just get out there and hope for the best. As we learned this year, you never know what could happen on any given day. The conditions may look like you would be better off sleeping because it’s supposed to be sunny, 60 degrees, and no wind. Unless you are out there, you just never know. By being in one of your hunting locations, you can at least see what lines the birds are using and where they are heading. This observation can be great for future hunts on days where weather conditions will be similar. On sunny days during quiet weather, a hunter can stick out like a sore thumb. Anything shiny is amplified with the reflection from the sun. If you do get ducks into range you have to be extra careful to getting spotted. On cloudy days, shiny gun barrels and uncovered faces aren’t nearly as problematic.
Ducks in the fog
Duck hunting in foggy conditions can be just as tough as a sunny, fair weather day, but it probably has more potential. The ducks ability to pick off the hunters or notice something wrong in the decoy spread are limited. They’re predominantly using their hearing to locate other birds. Duck hunters can be limited as well. It’s best to call frequently. There may not be any birds close, but if there is, you want them to hear you and take notice since they’re not able to see your decoy spread. Throw a short calling sequence out there then stop and listen to see if you hear wings or a cadence back at you. In these conditions you have to be ready at all times becuase you never when they may drop in out of no where.
Your duck hunting can be highly dependent on the weather conditions you’re hunting in. Keeping a close tab on the weather can help you determine when the best time to be out there will be. However, just because the forecast looks bleak doesn’t mean you should sleep in! In duck hunting, there are no guarantees! The National Weather Service has all your duck hunting weather needs.