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Waterfowl Hunting Challenges When Hunting on The Road
The bunch of perhaps fifteen mallards entered the north end of the perhaps thirty-acre lake. They were heading slightly towards us but their flight path would take them to the west. When we knew that we were not just wasting our breath we hit them with our calls. These calls were a series of high balls or attention getter calls blown almost at the top of our lungs due to the distance from us. The mallards corrected their flight which put them on a path that would bring them directly to us. On the first fly over, they were way too high to even consider taking a shot. Among the four hunters present up and down the line it was whispered, “Don’t look up, don’t look up.” When they had flown past us and turned back over the lake, we again hit them with our calls, but not nearly as loud as previously. The ducks, or at least the vast majority of them, locked their wings and began the descent as they turned back towards our decoy spread. They were out in front of our spread perhaps a hundred yards or more when they began this pass. This was going to be tough as there was no doubt that one or two of the ducks would be within range when they came through. It has been a problem since waterfowling began as to when you should take a shot. We could probably take one or two birds but we were greedy and gambling that on the next pass all the birds would be within range of our shotguns. Once again, we eagerly watched as the ducks went past, but no one dared move. There was in fact at least one mallard that almost landed in our decoy spread, but lifted back up when his friends flew past and joined them.
The fifteen or so ducks made a tighter turn and came right back into our decoy spread. They came into us in such a way that all four hunters had targets in front of them. We held our fire until the ducks’ feet nearly touched the surface of the water when the order “Take Em” was heard, ducks immediately began falling and most folded and hit the water dead as the range was very effective. When what was left of the bunch took off, they had left seven of their buddies on the water. We would take more ducks that long weekend in South Dakota but the way that bunch of ducks worked our spread was certainly the highlight.
What had made it special was the way the mallards had come in; it was exactly the way we had planned for it when we were working in the pre-dawn on our decoy spread. The wind was out of the south east and blew directly behind where we had been sitting. We put our forty some decoys out with a pocket in the center with some teal decoys close to the bank. On the edge of the teal, we put out two wings of mallard decoys that were probably three or four decoys wide and had the decoys stretching out perhaps less than twenty yards out into the lake. The rest of the mallard decoys we scattered mere feet away from the shore. The opening or pocket in the center of the decoys was thirty-five to forty feet wide. We had a motion decoy on the left side and another wind decoy on the right side. No one sat directly behind that pocket and instead we had two hunters sitting on both extremes of the decoy spread. There was a small hill behind us that kept us in the shade until almost 9:00 which helped hide us. We were also sitting on turkey hunting folding chairs in the reeds and cattails which kept us from having a standing body to hide. It was comfortable and handy as each hunter had a chair and he laid his shotgun on top of his gun case with his shooting bag right at his side for easy access. We also went to a great extreme by putting camouflage makeup on our face or at least a camouflage mask that you would use for turkey hunting. We had ducks come in that never had an idea we were even around until it was too late.
It’s rare for everything to work out that well no matter how you plan it. For example, my permanent blind here at home is on the north side of the lake. The colder the weather the more luck I have, but that’s because most ducks head south when things begin to freeze up in the north country and they migrate with a wind coming from the north. If the winds are coming from the south then things can be bleak. I can pick and choose when I want to go hunting, but when you only have a three-day license such as the one we draw for in South Dakota each year, there is no waiting for a better day. You simply have to walk around the body of water until the wind is coming from behind you which means the ducks will be flying at you when they come in. But sometimes this doesn’t work because a location to sit for the wind may not have enough cover to hide four hunters, so that is a challenge. When this happens sometimes you have to set your decoy spread up past you and head along the water’s edge and shoot the passing ducks heading to your decoy spread.
The challenge hunting in South Dakota this year is that they are suffering from a draught and the water levels are down. This means that we may be hiding in cattails that are twenty feet or so from the water’s edge. I would rather have it this way than high water because the water in the cattails means that you cannot sit down and it’s very easy to get busted by all those eyes when they circle you a couple times. Besides it’s a lot less comfortable standing for any length of time when compared to sitting. It’s also easier to stay warm when sitting down out of the wind than when standing in cold water up to your whatever.
So, what we look for first and foremost is what direction the wind is coming from. We hunt the same three or four water holes so when we find out about the wind, we know how we will be packing in or from what direction we need to come in from. From there, we look for a place to hide or at least try to hide the best we can while still being in range of any approaching waterfowl. Too far from the decoys and all you are is a bird watcher. The fun thing is that once we get to the pothole everyone has an idea of what might or should work best and you just set everything up and hope and sometimes you guess right. That’s when it’s rewarding!