The goal is to reach your bag limit on ducks every day you’re out in the field like a well-oiled machine, rolling them in on an assembly line. Of course, you can’t do that if you’re not at your best game.
That means knowing what gear to bring, knowing the area, deciding whether or not you want a duck-hunting dog with you, and much more. It’s also about safety. Hunting duck is no good to you if you’re injured or worse.
Some of the best tips for duck hunting are just as much about your safety and preparation as they are about bringing home the ducks, which is the ultimate goal.
15 Duck Hunting Tips
If you’re new to duck hunting and getting a little frustrated at your lack of productivity, don’t feel too bad. Every hunter has to start somewhere, and the best source of knowledge is the veteran hunters who eat, sleep, and breathe their trade. With that being said, here are some of the things they do that make them so successful.
1. Using decoys isn’t enough
Duck decoy placement is an art more than anything else. The canvas you’re trying to paint is the one that most ducks are attracted to. The first thing you need to ensure is that your decoy spread is highly visible. Ducks have pretty good vision, but you don’t want your decoys sitting with a hill between them and the water.
Set your decoys out with nothing but open water in front of them. No tall grass reeds or cattails sitting in front of them. It’s also important to know which decoys to use. For instance, flooded-timber hunters like to find holes and pack their decoys in them. You also need to set them in the type of scattered formations that best break up your blinds.
2. Camo up
When the season first opens up, duck hunting may come easy. However, they’re fast learners, and sitting out in the open in your lawn chair, wholly reliant on your decoy spread, simply won’t cut it anymore. Ducks learn, and after watching a few of their buddies go down for the count, they start spooking easily.
Don’t be afraid to spend that extra hour in the morning, covering yourself in a good amount of camo that blends well with the environment you’re heading into.
3. The finer details count
You can do everything right, and if your keys are sitting in your kayak’s cupholder, happily reflecting the sunlight, ducks will see it and decide they would rather bathe and get a drink elsewhere. You may not even realize your mistake because it’s a small detail.
Stay off your smartphone, especially if there is a possibility it might create a reflection. It’s little things like that which make or break an entire day.
4. Write your stuff down
A diary? Seriously? What kind of hunter keeps a diary? Well, the smart ones actually. You can’t be expected to remember absolutely everything. While you’re sitting in your blind, you’re making observations. Take notes.
How are the ducks reacting to your decoys? Do you need to make a change to your decoy spread? Memory is surprisingly unreliable and you should use a journal so you can break down each day without having to recall it on your own.
5. Muddy up the water
Details are everything, which is why the finer details have a place on our list. Another important detail is duck behavior. When they land and move around in shallow water, they stir up the substrate, creating a muddy, opaque water surface.
If your decoys are sitting out there in bright, clean, clear water, you had better believe that the real ducks will take notice. Get out there and stir it up a little. The substrate typically hangs in the water column for quite a while before sinking back down.
6. No dog? Try a casting rod
There’s nothing like an excellent duck retriever. It makes the entire duck hunting season far more convenient. Plus, it’s a good excuse to get out with your canine friend and put him/her to work.
However, not every duck hunter uses a dog, and if you don’t bring a casting rod along for the ride. You can use it to cast out and reel in your duck, just like an angler.
7. Draw your decoys back in the late season
Remember when we talked about visible decoy placement above? Well, you want to pull that back late in the season. By this point, ducks are pretty watchful. They’ve gone through a lot, and their population is dwindling fast.
They’ll avoid obvious duck decoys sitting right out in the open. Instead, pull them back into the brush a little bit and draw their attention to your calls. Once they spot the decoys in semi-cover, they’ll feel much more comfortable stopping in to say hello.
8. Paint your boat or kayak well
The last thing you want to do is go duck hunting in your hot pink kayak. It’s just as important to camo your kayak or boat as it is to yourself. Use some good stencils to outline all of your camo patterns and endeavor to match the colors of the areas you’re heading to.
Make sure your boat is well sanded down (it helps the paint bond to the material) and your paint is waterproof. Follow up a couple of coats with a clear coat for abrasion resistance and longevity out on the water.
9. Layer up
Duck season is often cold season and you’re liable to be out on the water, exposed to the wind and whatever elements nature decides to throw at you. Dress warm or you may just spend the day being very uncomfortable.
You can also shed those layers if you start getting a little toasty, but it’s better to be prepared than to try draping your dog over your shoulders just to stay on the warm side.
10. Master the art of calling
There is a fine line between calling too little and taking it way overboard. Make sure your call stays clean as a whistle. There are several calls you need to learn as well.
- Basic duck call
The right duck call at the right time can turn the entire day in your favor. Your only goal is to bring them in closer, with your decoys doing half the work and your calls doing the other half.
11. Bring a good seat
You’re going to spend a lot of time sitting down, so you may as well do it as comfortably as possible. You can either build your own or purchase one. It shouldn’t be overly large—we’re not talking about sunbathing chairs here.
But it should be simple, comfortable, and plenty of durable. Once you have the right one in your hands, go ahead and put some camo on it if necessary.
12. Don’t call when you don’t need to
If ducks are heading your way, there’s no reason to sit there blowing away on your duck call. As the saying goes, “only call tips or tails.” That means you’re looking at the back of the duck, and you don’t have its undivided attention.
Once you have its undivided attention, set the duck call aside unless it loses interest.
13. Camouflage your cooler
It’s a good idea to bring your own snacks as well as plenty of water along for the hunt. But, like everything else in your gear, make sure your cooler is camouflaged. That goes for any of your gear that’s bright in color.
The same is true for any storage containers you bring along, whether it’s some high-tech storage or a simple five-gallon bucket.
14. Bring a big basket or net
You need something to carry your dead ducks in. It’s not as if you can string them up like fish, and you certainly don’t want to stuff them in a box. Come prepared with a large net or basket—something you can neatly stack them up in and carry them off.
15. Don’t head home too soon
You might be surprised at how often hunters are successful because they stay put well into the morning, sometimes approaching noon. That’s because ducks migrate ahead of good tailwinds.
It might be calm all morning long before the wind starts to pick up. If you’ve already retired for the day, you will miss out on a juicy opportunity.
There you have it. While there are far more tips and tricks out there for hunting ducks, the experience will help you pick up a lot of them. In fact, the more time you spend out there, the more you will learn the finer points of duck hunting.
That’s also a good reason for bringing along your journal. Writing everything down will not only help you throughout the remainder of the season but it will also help you ten years down the road when you’re a seasoned, duck-hunting veteran.
There’s nothing like looking back and seeing some things you can potentially relearn all over again.
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