Living and hunting in the extreme northwestern corner of Washington
means that Seth Askvig has access to some of the finest waterfowl action in the country. But hunting along Washington's coastal bays also means dealing with a lot of rain, which can make for less-than-ideal conditions.
"If there is both rain and wind, you can count on a pretty good hunt in the morning because those birds want to get up and off those bays and back into the freshwater ponds or into the fields to eat," says Askvig, who operates and guides at Mud Creek Hunt Club. "But if it is a steady downpour, which we get pretty often, then the birds tend to sit tight. If you don't have the right gear to handle the rain, it can turn into a miserable experience."
Waiting out the ducks and geese requires dependable, waterproof clothing, Askvig says, perhaps even throwing on a pair of waders when hunting in a field situation to provide a barrier from water and mud.
When hunting out of a layout blind, he recommends using one with a waterproof bottom that keeps moisture out, or if possible, switching to a permanent structure like a pit blind that will help protect a hunter from the elements.
Askvig says that the same adjustments should be made for a hunting retriever
, too. "Even in the field, our dogs will all have vests on to insulate them from the wet and mud. A dog blind or a dog stand is also a good thing to use just to give them a chance to get up and out of the mess; a day in the rain can really wear on a dog."
Keeping yourself – and your dog – comfortable is key to finding success when the rain begins to fall, Askvig says.
"Hunting in the rain is just a reality for us. We are probably in it every other time out, and we know that we either deal with it and adapt, or go home early," says Askvig. "But if we can find a way to stay out hunting, more often than not we know that we're going to have a pretty good day."
Whether targeting birds over water or in the field, wind is an essential component of any waterfowl hunt, and arguably the single most important factor in decoying birds directly into the blocks, says Avery pro-staffer Martin Hesby.
But dealing with days of little to no wind is inevitable, he says, even in his blustery home state of South Dakota
"The kiss of death for a waterfowl hunter is when the weather forecast says ‘light and variable winds,'" Hesby explains. "When I hear this, I move to other options, if I have them, instead of burning a hot field or roost for what is probably going to be a rather frustrating hunt. It's usually best to just hold off until better conditions present themselves."
Hesby isn't sure if there is such a thing as "too much wind," believing that waterfowl hunters would take extreme winds over the opposite end of the spectrum most any day.
But he adds that steady, strong winds present their own challenges. "Heavy winds can wreak havoc on a decoy spread. You can spend more time picking up decoys that have blown over and getting them back upright than you do sitting in your blind," Hesby says. "In situations like this, I always utilize decoys with field stakes, instead of ring-base type stands. If you get your stakes in good ground, your Avery decoys will not topple over whatsoever."
Getting birds to the decoys is often a challenge, too. "You'll have ducks or geese setting up and looking great, but a big wind can cause them to hang up and take forever to finish," he says. "That's when they really get a good, long look at your setup, so concealment becomes even more of a priority. If they do hit the decoys, they have the ability to get out of town quickly. So while your first shot might be at birds up close, your second and third shots are at birds at the far edge of the decoy spread or further out."
To combat this, Hesby will adjust his shot size from #4s to #2s for ducks and #2s to BBs for geese. Staying smart about what shots to take is also important – a theme that Hesby says extends into other areas of the hunt.
"If you're hunting water, high winds can be very dangerous, especially if you're in a boat," he explains. "Even if you know that the birds are going to be moving, it isn't worth the risk. Sometimes the adjustment you make is the decision to stay home and wait until safer boating conditions."