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Big-water Action on Small Ponds

Getting the most out of your small-water hunting experience
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Story at a Glance
  • Sometimes-overlooked small-water honey holes can produce great hunts across the country.
  • Migrating birds will pick and choose small ponds and then change their minds very quickly.
  •  If you’re going to hunt small ponds regularly, make sure you have four or five scouted thoroughly so you can rotate ponds throughout the season.
  • Selecting the right decoys can make a huge difference, but don't be afraid to mix and match.
  • Let go of the overzealous hail calls on small water.

Pressure

Unfortunately, small-water hunting can make for the most strenuous hunts. Even though the distance from shore to shore is significantly shorter, being able to adapt to hunting pressure will provide good shoots on a regular basis. Be prepared to pick up the decoys and move if the birds are using a different pond that day. Unlike big-water hunting, one or two hunts will shy birds away from areas where they are trying to seek peace and quiet. If you do come across a pond that is being used heavily, hunt it and then let it rest for four or five days. 

Checkett explains that even big-water ducks will begin to shy away from areas where they have been hunted heavily and small-water ducks will begin to get gun shy much faster. If you’re going to hunt small ponds regularly, make sure you have four or five scouted thoroughly so you can rotate ponds throughout the season.

Decoy Spreads 

To the surprise of many hunters, small ponds can produce great numbers under the right circumstances, and depending on geographical location, hunters can experience mixed bags. Don't be surprised to see wood ducks, teal, mallards, black ducks, gadwall, widgeon and several other species using small water to rest between migration flights.

Selecting the right decoys can make a huge difference, but don't be afraid to mix and match. Toss out a small group of teal in one corner, some mallards and mix in a couple wood ducks as well. Be cautious as to how many decoys you use: while these ponds can hold large numbers, it's pretty rare, and a large number of plastic floaters can raise a red flag to wary birds.

"Realism is key when you’re going small," says Checkett. "Find an area with a log or a mud bank and deploy some full-bodied mallard decoys. A couple resters or sleepers will provide realism and the relaxed look you would typically find on small ponds."

Small water is also a target for predators, so keep in mind that ducks and geese will be cautious about dropping right in. They’ll scan the entire shoreline before deciding to commit, so being well camouflaged becomes an important factor. Face masks, gloves and a suitable blind for cover are necessities.

Be creative with your decoy spreads, but as Checkett mentions, keep realism in mind. Several small-water hunters have implemented crane or crow decoys in their spread to give circling waterfowl that extra sense of security.

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