by John Pollman
When it comes to having consistent success as a duck hunter, the ability to adapt to changing hunting conditions can bridge the gap between you and a successful day in the field. While scouting certainly will help you find the right area, even the best-laid plan may fall short if there is the slightest shift in weather pattern or bird behavior. Rather than throwing up your arms, take a deep breath and repeat: Change can be good.
At first the silhouettes crossing above the road didn't catch my attention, but when the second wave of mallards passed over the top of my truck in the soft light of a South Dakota sunset, I knew I had struck gold. As I came to a stop at the next intersection, I could see lines of mallards rolling out of a cornfield and falling into a low area in the adjacent section. With little light left in the sky, I made notes as to where I thought the birds were landing and raced off to find the landowner.
In the early light of the next morning, I worked my way toward the sound of hen mallards greeting the warm glow of the rising sun. Soon I could hear the ducks begin to lift from the darkness of a marsh in front of me, and I could see their soft outlines against the awakening sky. After several flocks had left, I hustled toward the marsh, but was greeted by an unexpected sight; rather than finding a cattail slough, I stared across an expanse of hay pasture that had flooded from unusually heavy fall rains. The calf-deep water was choked with short grasses that offered little cover to hide and low visibility for the decoys.
The situation was not what I expected, but I stuck with my plan, scattered a few decoys in the open pockets and hunkered down on my knees in some of the taller grass. It wasn't long before the first mallards began to return from the field. Instead of bowing up and funneling into the shallow wetland, the birds completely bypassed my spread of decoys. Flock after flock of birds flew directly overhead without missing a wing beat.
The birds weren't flaring off of me; they simply wanted to do something different. It was time for a change.