Taking a brace of greenheads on a cold late-season hunt involves fooling ducks that have seen everything along the flyway you’re hunting. Steve Hickoff photo
By Steve Hickoff
By the end of the waterfowl season, I try to travel as light as possible. After hunting ducks and geese for months, it’s time to favor quality over quantity. Here are some strategies I use as daylight hours shorten; even after the New Year where late seasons remain open:
You can hit northern tidal marshes along the coastline, and freshwater rivers as well, that might only be partially frozen. Ducks will sometimes stack up in moving current. You can either toss out a smaller decoy spread, or jumpshoot riverbends, moving to where birds loaf by day, shotgun ready for the flush.
You can ditch the manmade blinds. I’ve used plenty, and they work especially well for early-season, “happy hour” ducks and geese. By now, those birds have eluded all the tactics — that’s why they’re still alive. Try to hide yourself in a section of uncut pasture, inside deadfall along rivers, or even rocks along the shoreline. Natural cover rules. You’ll travel lighter, and blend in better for wary late birds.
You can mix up your decoy spreads. Like you, I have my favorite looks, but to be more effective now you’ve got to mix things up and think like geese and ducks. Add to the number of full bodies you use. Cut down on the amount too. If you usually put three-dozen fakes out per man, cut that by a third or more, and so on. Other times, you might want to toss out 100-plus fakes.
You can tidy up your decoys. By now I’m sure some of those fakes are mud-splattered. Clean them up before the hunt too with a brush and hot water. Dry ‘em off. Make those fakes look real.
You can go against the grain. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that your first decoy spread of the morning may not be your last. Time and again, even during this past season, waterfowl have shown me where I should have been that morning. The next day I made good on their lesson. You can relocate. Don’t hesitate to move during your hunts either. Pick up and go.
You can use your Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side vehicle to break up ice on your foot-deep, shallow water duck holes in cornfields and pastures. Maybe you’ve had some success there all season, and now it’s frozen up. If the water is deeper, simply ease in with chest waders, and bust it up to provide openings. Slide frozen sheets beneath unbroken ice. Open up that landing hole, and fill it with fakes.