Overcoming the challenges of winter waterfowling requires both realism and creativity
By Wade Bourne
If there’s one constant in waterfowl hunting, it’s change. Weather and water conditions change. The birds’ food preferences change. Their flight patterns change. As winter wears on, ducks begin pair-bonding, and bigger flocks break up into smaller groups and pairs. Weeks of hunting pressure make birds wary. For all these reasons, pursuing late-season ducks and geese isn’t the same as hunting them earlier in the season.
Successful hunters adjust their tactics as waterfowl go through this transition. And this is particularly true with decoy spreads. By adapting spreads to specific late-season conditions and hunting situations, waterfowlers can continue to enjoy good shooting until the season closes.
Ducks in Flooded Timber
Few places receive more gunning pressure than Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area southwest of Stuttgart, Arkansas. But despite considerable competition, Greg Churan of Little Rock enjoys consistent shooting in this huge maze of flooded timber, and he does so over a minimal decoy spread.
“My partners and I usually hunt the same general area,” Churan says. “We wade in at dawn and watch where ducks are working. Then we’ll make a quick move to set up where they’re going.”
Churan and his hunting partners take in only six to 18 decoys. “We use the lightest standard-size mallard decoys we can buy, and we set mostly drakes because they show up better in the dark woods,” Churan says. He believes that big spreads scare heavily pressured ducks in the late season. And because he and his partners must change locations frequently, fewer and lighter decoys make fast moves easier.
“We typically set up beneath a little crease or thin area in the overhead canopy,” Churan explains. “This might be where a tree has blown down or where the trees are shorter than the surrounding woods. But these are not well-defined holes in the forest cover.” Churan scatters his decoys randomly where he expects ducks to land. “I leave a lot of space between my decoys,” he says. “I don’t want them bunched up.”
Sometimes he also rigs a jerk string by tying a bungee cord to a tree, running a line back through the landing zone, and attaching two or three decoys to it. “You’ve got to have ripples on the water,” Churan stresses. “We always kick water, and the jerk string adds more movement to convince circling birds to come in.”