by Will Brantley
Loose lips sink ships. A veteran public-land duck hunter shared that clichéd phrase with me when I was in college and learning the waterfowl hunting ropes. Indeed, if you don't want every other hunter in the area to know where you're shooting birds, it's best to keep quiet. It's a good tip, and sometimes the only advice a veteran hunter is willing to relinquish.
But waterfowling is a social sport. Hang around even the most tight-lipped hunters long enough and they will share good advice, particularly during the off-season—you just have to be listening when they do.
1. Look at the Big Picture
Scouting is critical to success on public land, but Ohio call maker Fred Zink advises hunters not to focus so heavily on seeing ducks that they overlook the big picture—weather conditions and duck behavior. "Finding ducks sitting on the water is great, but some public areas are so heavily hunted that ducks can't sit anywhere for long," Zink says. "So when we're scouting, we try to determine if we're hunting stale birds or new, migrating ducks. New ducks tend to land in the center of open water or in bigger holes because they aren't used to the area, so we set up in a larger hole under a north wind. But if it's been warm for a week or two and the ducks in the area have been hunted a lot, they'll try to find the thickest cover available so they can hide."
2. Spread Out in a Strong Wind
Casey Lewis of Lewis Outdoor Adventures routinely encounters strong winds in his Wyoming goose fields. He's found that when decoys are set behind his layout blinds in such a wind, geese often hang long enough to pick out imperfections. "When birds hover overhead and see the backs of the blinds, the game is usually over," Lewis says. "So in a strong wind, we set the spread a good distance from us downwind and leave plenty of room for the birds to land. Sometimes the decoys will be 70 yards away. When birds come over them, we stay on them with the call and flag, and they'll often finish within 30 yards of the blinds."