Seven Tips to Take More Birds

To take more birds, you have to pay attention to all of the details. A hunter's guide...

Outdoor Life Online Editor

It's been my good fortune to have hunted with world-champion duck callers, legendary guides, shotgunning champions, boat builders and decoy makers across North America-people whose interest in waterfowling borders on obsession. In effect, it has been a graduate course in waterfowling, as I've been able to soak up the wisdom of their collective decades spent plying their craft from timbered backwaters to ocean bays.

If there's one trait common to all good waterfowlers, it's this: They pay attention to the details, no matter how small they might be. The difference between a successful hunt and a nearly successful hunt can usually be traced to simple mistakes. Here, then, are the seven most common reasons why waterfowlers take fewer ducks and geese, and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Who's in Charge Here?
Knowing when to call the shot is an art that can take a waterfowler years to perfect. When entering a blind, decide who will be responsible for calling the shot when birds approach. Usually the person with the most experience is best for this job. The trick is "reading" the birds to tell when they have come as close as they are going to get. Too many gunners let flocks of circling ducks or geese pass one too many times before shooting. With each pass, there is a chance that the birds will spot movement, the shine off a decoy or something else that signals them to avoid your blocks.

A simple rule: The shot should be called when the most number of birds are in range for the most number of gunners. There are variations on this theme, however. Sometimes, for instance, not all gunners will be in position to shoot-especially if hunters are extended across a field spread. In such a case, some gunning is better than no shooting at all, so seize the opportunity and call the shot. If you wait for an "ideal" moment, the birds may move on without ever presenting the perfect shot. And after all, a bird in the hand...

2. Preseason Scouting
Failing to plan, as is often lamented, is planning to fail. While most waterfowlers have a favorite blind that they return to season after season, it pays to scout every year, developing contingencies should your sacred blind go dry. (And sooner or later, in most cases, it will.)

Birds will frequent different areas throughout the season. The agricultural harvest, water conditions and hunting pressure all combine to dictate what the birds will do at any given moment. Properly anticipating what the birds will do is tantamount to gunning success. Since birds like to have a food source near their roosting areas, try to concentrate your efforts on areas that have both food and rest sites in proximity. And make sure that food source is there throughout the season, for once spilled grains have been eaten, the birds will move on to new sources.

If you're hunting Canada geese, track the grain harvest around refuges so you can identify the fields in which birds are likely to be feeding on the day you hunt. Honkers quickly locate freshly harvested fields, so find a feeding flock in the evening and you'll stand a good chance of getting action in the same spot the following morning. (You'll often get repeat action on puddle ducks as well.) Getting permission to hunt a farmer's land might be your toughest challenge, but offering to share the bag-in areas where there isn't much hunting pressure-sometimes is enough to convince him to let you hunt. In areas where there is considerable pressure-around most of the major refuges, for example-it often takes a formal lease to secure hunting privileges. If you can afford it, keep your options open by leasing more than one area. Split the cost among several buddies and you'll stretch your hunting dollar.

**3. Too Much Calling
** While a call in skilled hands can be a musical instrument, blown by an amateur-as the adage goes-it can be the greatesconservation tool ever devised. The most common crime is calling too much. The golden rule is to keep quiet while birds are approaching and blow when they're going away. The moral: The worst that can happen is that departing birds will keep on going. With any luck they'll hear your calls, like the sounds, and turn back for another look.

Every waterfowler has been in a blind where someone couldn't resist hacking incessantly on a call. Knowing when to keep quiet, however, has more to do with taking ducks than making noise. If you've got an experienced waterfowler in the blind, take your cue to blow from him. And if you're a guest in another person's blind, proper etiquette demands that you politely ask permission before unleashing your favorite lonesome hen rendition.

[pagebreak] 4. Weather or Not
The closest I've ever come to meeting my maker was in a duck boat when the water turned evil. It's the rare waterfowler who doesn't have tales of harrowing rides across an unforgiving chop. The Armistice Day (November 11) storm of 1940 remains the single greatest hunting disaster of all time. During that debacle, duck blinds turned to icy graves for dozens of hunters across the Great Lakes states who found themselves trapped in the fury of an early surprise blizzard. As the weather system descended on the region, many of the hunters-not suspecting the magnitude of the approaching storm-remained in their blinds, enjoying spectacular gunning as every duck in the region seemed to be moving. In so doing, many waterfowlers missed their brief opportunity to make it back to the safety of the shoreline.

More than any other, this disaster exemplifies the seductive danger of waterfowling. While rough weather often creates some of the best hunting conditions, it also tempts people to stay in their blinds past when it is safe to be there. Don't be stupid: Know when to pick up your decoys and head for safety.

**5. Getting Too Comfortable **
If you want to take more ducks, go to where they want to be. It's considerably easier to coax birds to your decoys when they're positioned where ducks naturally want to light. Some gunners construct permanent blinds-sometimes complete with gas heat, a kitchenette and comfortable sleeping quarters-in a place that birds only frequent during a short span of the season. If you want consistent gunning, you must be ready to sacrifice comfort for mobility.

Birds quickly learn to avoid decoy spreads positioned in the same location throughout the season. That's especially true of birds that roost on refuges and travel daily to surrounding fields or marshes to feed. Gunners who invest in stationary blinds must rely on a steady influx of new migrants to provide consistent gunning. Since it often takes major weather systems to push concentrations of birds south, it's unusual to have an abundance of gullible birds in an area for more than a couple of weeks. At the least, reposition your decoys daily to present a varying look to passing birds.

6. Dog Gone
When constructing a goose blind, always build a special place to house your retriever. Dogs in the blind are not only a nuisance when they shake water all over the place, but they also can be a liability around loaded shotguns. More than one gun has been accidentally discharged when knocked over by an overly exuberant retriever.

A dog outside the blind also presents fewer distractions in the commotion that often occurs when birds are working and coming into your spread. Condition your dog before hunting season to use its own compartment of the blind, and both you and the dog will enjoy greater success. This way, you'll also remain friends with your canine companion.

7. Rising Sun
Never position your blind facing directly into the morning sun: Coping with light burning into your eyes is no fun and it will prevent you from seeing approaching birds. Sunshine splashing on your upturned face also makes it much easier for passing ducks and geese to spot you.

It's important to be sensitive to wind conditions as well. Since birds land into the wind, position your decoys so that ducks or geese have to pass within shotgun range to come in among your blocks-preferably so the sun is to your back or side.

When arranging decoys, position them close enough to your blind to allow for easy gunning-no more than 25 to 30 yards away, in other words. It's also important to give the birds a comfortable landing zone-an opening in the spread that's perhaps 20 to 30 yards across. Birds will often head directly for this "hole," providing ideal shooting opportunities if the opening is in front of the blind. u from seeing approaching birds. Sunshine splashing on your upturned face also makes it much easier for passing ducks and geese to spot you.

It's important to be sensitive to wind conditions as well. Since birds land into the wind, position your decoys so that ducks or geese have to pass within shotgun range to come in among your blocks-preferably so the sun is to your back or side.

When arranging decoys, position them close enough to your blind to allow for easy gunning-no more than 25 to 30 yards away, in other words. It's also important to give the birds a comfortable landing zone-an opening in the spread that's perhaps 20 to 30 yards across. Birds will often head directly for this "hole," providing ideal shooting opportunities if the opening is in front of the blind.