Duck season will be getting underway in most of the South fairly soon and you can bet you will have plenty of company out on the water. Waterfowlers have waited all year for this day and will be coming out in droves. The duck opener can be a very hectic and stressful time for a lot of public land hunters. How you deal with the hunting pressure and everything else will dictate whether your duck strap is full or not. I will go over 5 tips to make your opening day as good as it can be.
1. Scout. It sounds rather simple, doesn’t it? But scouting is the most important thing you can do prior to opening day. Don’t go out that Friday and try to find your birds. You will soon realize there are 20 other people at the ramp who have already jumped the ducks and walked to most of the sloughs you want to hunt. Try to scout a few days during the week if at all possible.
2. Get there early. What is early you ask? It may vary greatly from place to place. At Lake Wright Patman, Millwood and Lake O’ the Pines where I hunt, many people will be camping on their holes on Friday night before the opener. If that is not your thing, so be it. Do you think you need to be at your claim by 4 a.m.? You should try to be there by 2 a.m., if you are serious about getting that exact spot. If not, you can get there when you like and pick from what claims are left.
3. Run a HUGE spread. Look at it from a duck’s point of view. They will be able to see 50 decoy spreads that will be very similar in size and shape. Make yours standout from the rest by running as many as your boat can safely haul. If most people are using 2-3 dozen blocks, try to double that to 5-6 dozen. I know it sounds kind of harsh, but with today’s Texas rigged decoys you can pick up 60-80 decoys in minutes.
4. Motion and More Motion. Early season ducks love water motion. I prefer motion decoys like a Higdon Pulsator or a Wonder Duck Cyclone feeder. Both of these decoys simulate actively feeding birds on the water and are constantly providing movement in your spread. If you don’t own any type of motorized motion decoy, then a jerk string will do just fine. I would wager a jerk string has killed more ducks than just about any other motion system out there.
5. Get Hidden. Too many people want to hide on opening day like they did for dove season. Don’t be “that” guy that is standing out in front of the bushes facing the ducks and wondering why the birds won’t finish. Get some cover in front of you and behind you. You will want to break up your human outline and try to keep your movements to a minimum while birds are working. When you go out to retrieve a bird or get the boat, look back at your hide and see how things look. Remember, birds aren’t looking for everything to be right; they are looking for ONE thing to be wrong. Tuck in and brush up and you will kill more birds.
6. Kill 'em softly with your calls. On most public bodies of water, try and keep your calling to a minimum. I have found that loud, aggressive cadences are usually not for crowded duck marshes. Instead, I opt for a lot of feed chuckling, contented quacks and lonesome hen calls. How many times have you just been sitting there and hear a greenhead land in the dekes with no calling at all? Keep that in mind.
7. Leave your feelings at home. There will no doubt be other people out there that may call at every duck, coot, woodpecker or grebe that they see. They may shoot at everything this side of the river and they may set up a bit close for your liking. Try not to get in your feelings and let these things bother you. Don’t let other hunters steal your cool and ruin your day afield. If need be, pick up and move or come back later. Remember that it is public and not all hunters play by the same set of rules in the ethical hunters’ playbook.
One more dime of free advice is that when you are at the public boat ramp you need to move with a purpose. You can bet it will be full of people and chaotic to say the least. This is not the time to let your buddy back the boat down that has never done so before. Other hunters are waiting in line to launch their boats, not to watch you jack knife your trailer or talk shop with other people at the ramp.
Well, I hope these tips help you for the duck opener that is fast approaching or already here!