5. Go Overboard with Natural Camouflage
Mike Miller lives in Canon City, Colorado, where he is a regional manager of the Mossy Oak pro staff. Miller hunts the river bottoms and potholes of eastern Colorado. In the late season he scouts extensively and changes locations virtually every hunting day. His stock in trade is building temporary blinds or using layout blinds next to loafing areas where ducks come back to rest after feeding in nearby grainfields.
Miller says ducks are extremely skittish during the late season in his area. This is why he goes to great lengths to "over-camouflage" his blinds. "If I'm building a temporary blind, I might use camo netting as a base layer, but I'll finish the blind with whatever grass or cover is natural to the site," he says. "I may use deadfall timber or willows or cattails. And I'll pile it on. I want my blind to totally conceal my hunting partner and me."
According to Miller, it's extremely important to provide overhead cover in addition to covering the front, sides, and back of the blind. "Late-season ducks will circle over the blind and look down, and if they spot anything unnatural, they're gone," he says. "So I make sure I have plenty of overhead cover that provides a shadow that I can crouch down in."
Using layout blinds shortens the work required to disappear from the birds' view, but he's just as fastidious about covering these portable blinds with natural vegetation as permanent blinds. "That's what they sew those little loops on the blind cover for," he notes. "I stuff them liberally so my blind looks like a bump that rises out of the ground. The blind material should be the same color and consistency as the natural vegetation on-site."
6. Adjust Decoys for Late-Season Divers
Scott Glorvigan of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, hunts his state's big lakes for divers—mostly scaup, canvasbacks, and "ringbills" (ring-necked ducks)—and says these birds get spooky late in the season. They also gather into large flocks. These two factors require hunters to change their tactics if they want to continue having good shooting through the season's end.
Glorvigan likes to hunt off the biggest point on the lake, hiding his boat-blind in the reeds or cattails just offshore and setting out three-dozen decoys off the tip of the point. "First we'll run a 75-yard line of canvasback drake decoys at a 45-degree angle from the downwind corner of the boat. These big, mostly white decoys will attract ducks from a long way off," he says.
"Next we'll set the raft (main group of decoys) out from the upwind corner of the boat, and we'll leave a big gap (20 yards wide) between the boat and the near side of the raft. Also, we'll spread the lines of decoys in the raft wider apart to give the big flights more room to land."
And what's his main secret to success? "We watch the first couple of birds or flights to see how they respond to our setup. If they come in, great. But if they fly over but don't try to land, they're telling us they don't like the way the spread looks. If they're swinging but not committing, I'll change something. I may move the decoys out a little farther. I may pick up a line of decoys to open up the spread even more. I'll keep changing things to get the response I want."
7. Keep Your Shotgun Clean and Dry
Mark Coin of Lewisburg, Kentucky, is the owner of Down-N-Dirty game calls, but don't let that fool you—he's a fanatic about keeping his shotgun clean. Coin spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he says gun cleaning is a religion. "I carried this practice over into my hunting life," he says. "I'm almost obsessive about cleaning my shotgun and using the right products to keep it operating in extreme late-season conditions, when most malfunctions occur."
For starters, Coin uses nonpetroleum cleaning products. "I use a dry lubricant instead of oil when cleaning in the late season. When oil combines with carbon residue, it forms a gunk that'll slow down your action. I've seen hunters take oil and squirt it all over their shotgun, inside and out. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do."
Coin contends that gas-operated shotguns, especially, should be broken down and cleaned after each hunt. Extra care should be taken to remove carbon buildup on the gas piston and magazine tube. (One good cleaning agent for this is mineral spirits, available at most paint stores.)
Another tip: Hunters using shotguns with synthetic stocks should remove the butt pad or sling swivel and drain any water that has collected in the stock. If left unattended, this water will freeze on cold days and impair the shotgun's action.
"You can't be lazy about cleaning your shotgun," Coin says. "You've got to keep it clean and dry so it'll cycle."