There’s a lot more to having a successful waterfowl hunt than just ploppin’ down in a field and tossing a few decoy’s out. There’s strategy involved, a plan to be made, and work to be done prior to every hunt. Over the last couple seasons, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to pull off an excellent waterfowl hunt. From what I’ve learned so far, there’s 5 steps that stand out the most to me for a successful hunt: The Scout, Gaining Permission, The Hide, The Spread, and Calling.
Find the birds; Find the feed—the obvious answer to why scouting is so important. There are some less obvious answers to that question, though. When a good feed is found, the first thing I learned to look at was, where in the field are the birds landing. Are they comfortable on the edge of the field, or in the middle? The next piece of information you need to look at is wind direction. Take note of what the wind is doing currently, versus what the wind will be doing during the hunt. An important lesson I’ve learned is wind can change everything.
Now come the first steps in the planning process. Look at what kind of field you’ll be in. The type of field you’re hunting is especially important when it comes to the hide. Also, think about what type of blinds you’ll be using for you hide, whether it’s A-frames or a type of layout blind.
Photo Credit: Ben Webster
If you’re fortunate enough to always be able to hunt all your own land, feel free to skip this section. For the rest of us, getting permission to hunt the hot field from a landowner and/or farmer is the next step in having a successful hunt. If you’re from the area, you may already know who to call and get permission from. If not, On-X Maps or a plot book is a good place to start your research. Sometimes finding out who you need to get permission from is easy, and sometimes it takes some work.
After gaining permission, there are a couple important things that you should clarify with the landowner/farmer. You should always be up front with them about how many people there will be hunting with you. Make sure you also ask permission to drive on their field. There may be some farmers who won’t want you to drive in their fields, and depending on the crop, some may want you to either take one path or multiple paths in and out of the field. Open communication and honesty are two key components when building a hunter/landowner relationship.
While setting up for the hunt, the hide is one of my favorite parts. A good hide is going to make or break your hunt. The hide is your concealment during the hunt. Ducks and geese are keen on spotting movement and a good hide will ensure everyone is properly covered. The more natural you look, the better.
Placement is essential. While scouting, you already determined the area the birds are most comfortable—your hide will be close to that area. There are different hides for different scenarios, as well as for different birds. However, no matter what blinds you use for your hide, they should always be well grassed in to blend into your environment as naturally as possible. Even if you’re hiding in whites, you should do your best to completely cover yourself.
It is definitely a time saver to have blinds that are already pre-grassed, and in that case, it’s never a bad idea to add a little extra of whatever is naturally growing around that particular field. Again, the more you’re blended in naturally, the better.
When setting up your hide, you also have to look at things like the position of the sun and shadows. Unnatural shadows can spook your otherwise comfortable birds, and if your hide is casting shadows onto your decoy spread, you could go unnoticed altogether. On the flip side of shadows, sunshine can make things like uncovered faces and camera lenses glint and gleam, which may cause your birds to flare and move on to another field. Where is the sun, and where will the sun be during the hunt—two key questions you must address when making your hide.
Setting the Spread
Setting the spread is like setting the stage for the show. Everyone you talk to is going to have their own tips or tricks for setting out the decoy spread. I have yet to learn the exact science of setting the perfect spread, but I think I understand the basic concepts of setting the stage.
You can have several different types of decoys—full bodies, silhouettes, socks—giving you the option for your spread to have variety. Variety is what is going to give your spread the most realism. Knowing what birds you’re hunting and their patterns will help make the spread look more realistic as well. For example, I’ve learned that some species of geese like to land in a tightly knit spread, whereas some want to land in a hole in the decoy spread. Knowledge is power.
On to the next point, during scouting, you’ve already determined your wind direction, so you know how you’ll be setting the decoys out—you want to set them facing the wind so that they’ll have movement, making it look more realistic. You also know where the birds appeared most comfortable, so you’ll set your spread in that general area in a relatively close proximity to the hide. Or, if you’re hiding in layouts or in a snow spread, you’ll want decoys and socks surrounding you to help conceal the hide. There’s literally thousands of ways to set the stage, but I’ve learned it all boils down to a few basic concepts.
Photo Credit: Kayla Hill
You have the decoy spread, so you can be seen. Now you have to be heard. I’ve learned that calling has a lot to do with reading your birds—knowing when to call, and when to just let your birds work in the decoys. Some groups of birds like more aggressive, louder calling, whereas some groups may respond better to a softer, more mild call. Once again, read your birds—get a feel for what they’re responding best to and don’t be afraid to make a change if the birds won’t finish properly.
Photo Credit: Kayla Hill
There are so many factors that play into having a successful waterfowl hunt; some you can control, and some you can’t. Knowing what things you can control, however, is the key. These are just five things that stand out the most to me when I think about what it takes to put together a successful hunt. Part of what I love so much about waterfowl hunting is there is always going to be something new to learn and something new that I can add to my knowledge base. Happy Hunting!