by Tom Fulgham
When the early morning sun burns white-hot, it's hard to imagine there will ever be an end to summer. In the thick of it, the humid days drone on as relentlessly as the cicadas, but somewhere beyond the northern horizon lies the promise of a new season. A new autumn. A first cold front. Another opening day.
Though we can't see it coming for the summer haze, another duck season is fast approaching. There's much to be decided, and much work to be done. Blinds, decoys, calls, boats, dogs-all must be in top form by opening morning. It's no easy task, but nothing worthwhile ever is. In that spirit, here are a few suggestions, or more likely reminders, to help with all the planning and preparations. Surely, you have some preseason rituals of your own to add to our list as well.
Enjoy the work, or at least go at it with joyful determination. You'll know it was worth every bit of sweat and worry when that first flock banks to your call, and the season begins.
1. Make a Plan for the Season
For many of the key components of our lives, we have a plan. We plan a career, plan our family's financial stability, and ultimately plan the disposition of our wealth and possessions after we have hopefully moved on to an eternity of autumn winds and cupped wings. Successful duck hunting-certainly a key component of life-also requires a plan. A good one, thoughtfully devised.
Last season is the best starting point for planning this season. If you keep a waterfowling journal, review last duck season objectively. Try to determine which hunting spots produced under what weather conditions. Which spot is best on a storm front, and, conversely, where should you be when the weather is clear and calm? Which option is best when it rains, snows, or freezes?
What is the river stage reading that correlates with good hunting in your bottomland hardwood flat? Factor in all the variables, and you'll have a plan that will put you in the right spot at the right time most mornings during duck season.
If you have only one hunting spot, know the conditions under which it is most productive, and resolve to be there on those days. The goal of your preseason planning should be to maximize hunting opportunities as weather and water conditions change.
2. Dust Off Your Duck Call
At the end of last season, your calling never sounded better, and the birds responded as if mesmerized-at least, that's the way you remember it. To pick up just where you left off last winter, you'll need some practice prior to opening day.
As a starting point, clean your calls and inspect the reed. If you hunt three or four days a week, consider starting each season with a fresh reed or reed set. Expensive calls should be sent back to the call maker for new reeds. Otherwise, try installing and tuning the new reeds yourself (see "On Call" feature). If you intend to buy a new duck call from one of the major mail-order catalogs, place your order as early as possible; a backorder notice holds little value on opening morning.
With your old or new call now tuned to perfection, practice as often as you can prior to duck season. A good approach is to find a place outdoors where you can practice calling at normal volume levels and then tape yourself, comparing your calling to recordings of live ducks.
When you practice, do so with purpose. Don't just call randomly. Instead, make your practice sessions as realistic as possible by calling as if you are working a flock of ducks. Imagine the birds turning to your highballs, locking up on your greeting calls and feeding chatter, veering off but turning back to a comeback series. Practice with a purpose, and you'll be more effective on opening day.