Birds are smartened up come January. Here are some tips for late season success.
Tips & Tactics:
Whether you hunt the rivers, lakes or backwood sloughs, birds will nevertheless change their patterns throughout the winter months. Of course, this is very dependent on the hunting pressure, weather and changes in the water levels. Decoying or jump-shooting birds in sloughs, ponds or wooded areas was once easy. But, now many of these locations are flowing fast with deep muddy water.
Looking to some of the outlying areas where the water is seeping into may be your best bet. The majority of these locations are surrounded by wood patches, grain, grass, corn stubble or other pasture lands. Birds cannot resist these places, since they provide ample amounts of fresh feed as well as open water where they can easily detect predators.
This, in turn, poses a serious problem for us hunters. How do we hunt these birds where there is high visibility in relation to our blinds? Simple, we take advantage of the available cover or create our own. First of all, look to see where the water is coming from. Is it an overflow from a pond or creek? Or is it just ground saturation? Usually, there will be taller grasses near the small creeks or wooded/bushy outcroppings adjacent to other bodies of water.
It is very likely no matter what situation you are presented with maintaining a low profile will be a must. By this I mean no stools, plush blinds, heaters, cook stoves etc. You will need to stay low and close to the ground. Staying low can be somewhat uncomfortable or precarious but necessary and very rewarding. Try to use field contours to help keep your profile hidden.
Decoys & Calling:
Minimal use of decoys and sporadic light calling tend to work best in flooded field situations. Calling usually requires movement and in these instances you will need to hold as still as possible. Birds tend to be more visually orientated to decoys when presented in open water. Light mallard feed calls or teal/pintail whistles are very useful during these scenarios.
In flooded areas, near wooded locations use small groups of wood duck, mallard and widgeon decoys. Setting them in groups of 3-4 birds totaling about 16 will suffice. Large expanses of surface water in open fields will require more decoys. Make sure to use them in an open style V or X formation with plenty of landing zones available near your location. Pintail, mallards, widgeon and teal are good “dekes” to use in these situations. I also like to throw in 2-5 Canada honkers into the spread for good measure. You will likely attract quite a potpourri of birds including geese.
Cackling Canada geese will likely remain higher and circle your spread numerous times. It is often quite difficult to get them to commit and set their wings. But, if you remain patient you will get some shooting. If possible, place a few decoys near the shore or field edges where the water meets. Standing sentry style and feeders work best along the edges and look very natural. The best shooting seems to be at first light on stormy, foggy and windy days. Evening hunts are quite productive as well especially, when the “ground fog” rolls in to aide in concealment.