I’ve been shooting ducks in central Pennsylvania for two decades. If there’s anyplace where I know every patch of water, this is it. So when Tyler Coleman—then a junior at Penn State—invited me to hunt at his “secret” haunts, I greatly doubted their classified nature.
My suspicion seemed confirmed as Coleman drove a familiar road. Then he parked alongside a stand of pines—hey, I’d never stopped here before—and a short walk led to a vast beaver swamp. We shot a limit of wood ducks, then many more birds throughout the season at various unlikely locations.
When it comes to scouting out new honey holes, Coleman is among the best I know. Here are his top tips for finding your next hotspot.
The Topo Map Advantage
Smart deer hunters use topographic maps to chart likely deer movements, but waterfowlers rarely make use of them. Coleman uses physical maps and mobile-phone topos to guide his search.
“I never go out looking for birds without a plan,” Coleman says. “I mark water that looks good, then I drive many miles to check it. There’s no magic to it—it takes effort.”
There are plenty of topo apps available, but HUNT by onXmaps is the best I’ve tried. It includes aerial and topographic imagery, notes whether an area is public or private, and even provides landowner names.
Follow the Birds
Coleman wakes up early to locate ducks and spends the entire day determining their routine.
“If you find birds feeding in the morning, they’ll generally reveal their loafing areas as well and may lead you to more birds,” he notes. “Even a small group may help you find the larger honey hole.”
If you lose track of the flock, your best bet is an educated guess based on the water and food sources revealed by your topo map. If all else fails, find some high ground to relocate trading birds.
How to Use the Roost
If you keep tabs on the birds until sunset, with any luck they’ll lead you to the roost. But be careful.
“There may be hundreds of mallards, but you have to fight the temptation to hunt there,” Coleman advises. “Roosting ducks need to feel safe, so if you bust them, they’ll scatter. You may get one good shoot, but you could’ve hunted those birds for weeks otherwise.”
Instead, note the roost’s location and find nearby loafing and feeding spots, where the ducks will better tolerate pressure.
Cold Changes Everything
“I recheck spots throughout the season, especially once freezing conditions are expected or have arrived,” Coleman says. “Marginal feeding areas can turn into honey holes in a hurry as ducks fuel up for migration and new birds arrive. Don’t give up on them.”
Scout the Post-Season
We all scout before and during the season, but Coleman is out poking around long after the rest of us have hung up our waders.
“Honestly, the post-season is one of my favorite times to find new honey holes,” he says. “There are still birds around, often where I least expect them. You can’t hunt, so why not scout?”