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Banding Together for Waterfowl

7 Tactics for Hunting Public Ducks

The author shares his secrets for hunting public waterfowling areas
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By Wade Bourne

For some waterfowlers, the words "public hunting area" conjure up images of crowded boat ramps, fierce competition for spots, and incessant calling. Others shrug off these annoyances and point to the bountiful waterfowl hunting opportunities available on national wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas, and other public lands. Both perceptions are correct to some extent.

Managed public lands typically attract plenty of ducks. They also draw large numbers of hunters. Here are seven surefire strategies to help you bag more birds on these come-one, come-all waterfowl hunting areas:

1. Locate the Best Spots

It's a fact: certain spots are simply duck magnets. For a variety of reasons, some places on public hunting areas consistently attract more birds than others. Hunters who learn the best spots and gain access to them will experience more consistent shooting than those who don't.

Here's an example. Years ago my partners and I were hunting on a public wade-in area in west Tennessee. All waterfowlers were assigned to numbered sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Through experience, we learned about a secluded spot in the back of the area that was a veritable honey hole. It was just one of those places where mallards and other puddle ducks wanted to be.

Other hunters also knew this was a good spot, so we made it a point to be the first to get there whenever we hunted it. We would get up early enough to arrive at the blind an hour before legal shooting time, and wait in the dark. Hunters who showed up later had to go elsewhere. I don't ever remember getting to this spot an hour early and finding someone else already there.

The takeaway: ferret out the good spots. Ask the area manager or a local conservation officer to point out the places that consistently draw more birds. Check harvest reports for blinds or specific units that have the best track record. Scout during nonhunting periods to learn where the ducks want to be. 

Blinds on some public hunting areas are allocated ahead of time via drawings. Other blinds and sites are assigned on a daily basis. In either case, hunters who know the best spots can make informed selections when their turn to choose comes around. Learn where the best places are and go all out to claim them, and you'll bag more ducks.

2. Hunt When Others Don't

As a rule, the less pressure a public area receives the better the hunting will be. This is why hunting on weekdays is usually more productive than hunting on weekends, when more waterfowlers go afield. Other good times to hunt include holidays, opening days of hunting seasons for other game, and when extreme weather keeps many hunters indoors. 

Here's another scenario. If a popular local wildlife management area (WMA) is gunned heavily on weekends and rested on Monday and Tuesday, hunt it on Wednesday. Your chance for a good hunt should be higher on the first day the area reopens to hunting.

Certain times of day might also offer less competition and better hunting. Ducks often become programmed by hunting pressure. If pressure is heavy early but slackens as the morning wears on, the ducks might start feeding later in the day, when the disturbance from hunters is lower. 

The point is, be alert for any opportunity to hunt on public areas when other hunters aren't likely to show up. If you're there when others aren't, your odds of enjoying a good shoot will increase. 

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