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Field tactics for waterfowl


December 01, 2013
If you are looking for late season waterfowl action don't overlook the fantastic Michigan hunting available on dry land. Southern Michigan hunters can harvest birds until December 8th and December 28-29. Great hunting is also allowed in the middle and north zone into December and savvy waterfowlers make the switch from hunting water to field outings. Consult the Michigan Waterfowl Hunting digest 2013-2014 for exact dates, regulations and hunting hours. After the hot action of the opener birds seem to disappear and many hunters pack their gun and decoys and go back to work, thinking that birds have migrated out of state. Wrong, in fact there are thousands of mallards and geese waiting for hunters willing to take the time to scout out flyways, determine feeding locations and set up on dry land. This point is best made by the following anecdote.

A faint pink glow on the eastern horizon signaled dawn was arriving as we quickened our pace, set out decoys and made last minute preparations to makeshift ground blinds. It was late season, days after the opener and at daylight we were ready. The night air was freezing and cold morning seemed to delay flights of giant Canada geese and flight mallards.

As the sun touched the treetops, we could hear the distant honking of geese. Eyes searched the horizon for birds; the first flock dipped below the trees and came directly at our spread. They made no effort to circle and eye ball our full body decoys; they just locked wings and glided into the decoys like huge B-52 bombers slowly touching down. Our volley brought down several geese but before we could gather them, a second flock came from the same direction as the first. Again, they acted like they had never been hunted, set wings, lowered landing gear and dropped into our spread like our decoys were their long lost cousins.

The shooting was easy and in a short time we had our limit, picked up decoys and drove out of the field. When we reached the main road we stopped, stepped outside and chilled for a bit to sip on hot coffee and reflect on the fast-paced morning action. We laughed about the exciting hunt, remarked about the lack of hunting pressure and watched as birds poured into the field from four directions.

Actually, our hunt started a couple days earlier as we drove country roads, looking for geese, observing area crops. Perhaps the most important variable in field hunting is scouting and after the craziness of the opener hunters need to start scouting all over again. Fact is, waterfowl soon adjust to hunting pressure and they vacate areas used by hunters. No, they do not fly out of state but they do set up shop in a different field. As fields are harvested and new corn cafeterias open for business birds adjust flight patterns to new feeding location. Once a field has been used and the golden nuggets are eaten flights are quickly readjusted to new feeding locations. Savvy hunters move with the birds and are constantly looking for the waterfowl mother lode in a new field. Waterfowl are masters at adjusting flight patterns so hunters cannot see or hear them. But they are still following a daily flight pattern from local waterways to fields in search of food.

The secret to outstanding dry land hunting has nothing to do with your hunting abilities. This skill requires a good pair of binoculars, keen eyesight and hearing, with a dash of patients mixed in. The trick is to find where birds are feeding, determine which fields they are using and setting out decoys in their dining room at the crack of dawn.

One exciting variable is during late fall local goose populations are joined by migrating flocks of mallards. I'm talking big drakes with bright green heads, orange feet and an appetite for corn in area fields. Ducks often arrive at feeding locations before geese and you can have some unbelievable duck shooting, limit out and then get ready for incoming flights of geese.

My hottest decoy set up for field mallards are two big spinning wing MOJO Super Mallards with remote control. I place them slightly to the side of the goose decoys and place some Avery full body magnum mallard decoys on the ground under the Mojo set up. When I spot distant flocks I hit the remote, the decoy wings have unbelievable attention-grabbing flash that draws birds at long distances. This set up offers the brand of incredible realism that sucks large flocks from the heavens like a tornado vacuum.

If geese show up I prefer to turn the spinning wing mallard decoy off with the flip of a switch. Some outings become duck hunts and the geese never show and the full body goose decoys and large duck decoys guarantee flocks of mallards will swoop kissin' close. Other hunts the ducks never show but flocks of geese keep dive bombing your spread. The trick is to fun filled outings is be fully prepared and have a layout field decoy spread that will draw both ducks and geese.

FieldTacticsforWaterfow
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Late season mallards are large ducks, brightly colored and they tend to fly in large flocks. Best hunting is at sunrise, sunset and during fall storms that cause birds to seek food in fields.

Begin by going back to the watery roosting locations and follow flocks at daylight. Oh yes, for this brand of scouting you need a dependable vehicle, good sense of direction, understanding of fields geese prefer and plenty of gas. Start by following morning flights; try to keep up with flocks, which is a difficult task in today's traffic. The problem with gun shy birds is, after dodging hot lead on opening day they become wary and make every effort to conceal their flight pattern.

Waterfowl will do just about anything to make it hard for you to find their feeding fields. They fly low; I'm talking extra low, just above trees, so you have difficulty following them. Most geese fly silent, making few honks to announce their flying pattern. Wary adult birds lead flocks and when they arrive at feeding fields they frequently land in low areas or hollows, making it difficult to see them from the road. To make matters worse, they do not fly every day. Plus, they reserve flights until conditions make it difficult to see hear or follow them. You can count on geese flying like crazy when the wind gets blowing and rain is falling. And you thought that scouting geese is a piece of cake? Hey, this sport takes dedication, attention to details and hours of pre-scouting if you want easy gunning.

Some hunters would probably just blast the birds on the water. I've found that shooting waterfowl on local ponds and lakes causes them to relocate at a different roosting site. I'd much rather leave them undisturbed, keep tabs on them and let flocks build in numbers until huntable numbers congregate in area fields. There is something powerfully addictive about flocks of adult birds coming into a decoy spread. When they get kissin' close, close enough to hear their wings and feel their power….that's hunting.

I recommend finding private ground for enjoyable and rewarding waterfowl outings. Here, birds have an opportunity to respond to your call, look at your decoy spread and glide into gun range.

Geese are not difficult birds to kill. You just need to hit them and most hunters get so excited when giant birds come close, they forget to aim and blast holes in the sky around scattering flocks. At one time, I used 2 ¾ inch #2 shot, but lately I've resorted to the fire power and knockdown ability of my Benelli auto loader and 3 inch BBB's. Sometimes I use T or TT's when shooting high flying winter geese that refuse to come closer than 40 yards.

The kind of field you hunt is determined by the geese. Most like harvested corn but I've had fantastic hunts in stubble corn fields. One of my hottest locations is owned by a farmer who plants thousands of acres of corn yearly. I scout his fields noting which stubble fields birds prefer. The next morning 'ole Kenny boy is in the field armed with Mr. Benelli.

Some hunters make the mistake of not setting up exactly where the birds are landing. The key to in-your-face waterfowl action is placing decoys exactly where birds intend to land. Find a feeding hot spot and you can count on an easy hunt…that's all there is to this sport folks…get the picture? Nothing is more frustrating than placing decoys far from the sweet spot and watching flock after flock dump into a field a few hundred yards out of range.

Field hunting requires you use available camouflage or a pop up layout style blind. It is very important to disguise your human outline if you want top gunning action. Layout blinds offer the brand of deadly concealment that guarantees success. Perhaps the most important variable of a layout bind is you can move without detection and the camo-mesh face screen completely hides your face. Good camouflage is a must and generally you are best off to lie in the middle of a field, far from trees, brush or fencerows.

If you are hunting undisturbed birds you can call frequently, downright bawl at them and they will still come for your decoys. Flight mallards love loud highball calls that direct their attention to the spinning wing decoys. Gun shy birds require less calling and it is a good idea to mimic feeding birds with low-key calling mixed with growling. Call to get a flocks attention, make them turn toward you, and then avoid raucous calling. Tone down calling as birds get close, and teach other hunters to remain absolutely motionless to avoid being detected by the watchful eyes of wary adult birds.

Late season birds feeding in

corn are easy to decoy. Just about

any decoy will work, as long as you place the spread in the location where you scouted birds and use available corn stubble to hide your human outline. Shell decoys, silhouette or full body Canada geese will draw birds from very long distances. Smart hunters lay 30 yards downwind from the decoy spread and surprise birds approaching upwind to the decoy spread.

Keep an eye on local waterfowl populations and find the fields they prefer. Next, get permission to hunt and plan an early morning or late evening ambush. Few thrills in wing shooting are more exciting than giant Canada geese and flocks of mallards zooming past at close range.

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