The best way to approach scouting is like a military planner designing a campaign or a football coach drawing up a game plan. You begin with a grand strategy, then you build in contingencies. The more options you include, the more latitude you have when you need to make a move. In other words, if you have only one or two hunting spots, and they're not producing, you're stuck. But if you have a half dozen or more spots in different areas, odds are good that at least one will be holding birds.
So, how does a hunter line up a half dozen spots in this day of private leases and crowded public areas? You start by believing that you can find good, unpressured spots in virtually any state. Granted, these places won't just drop into your lap, but they're out there. They will be on the most remote corners of public hunting areas, the wildest stretches of rivers, and the deepest holes in swamps. (If they were easy to get to, everybody would be there.) It takes a certain mindset to uncover these places. Hunters who target them must have the tenacity to push harder and go deeper, and they must possess the right equipment to reach these way-back spots.
How do you begin looking for them? Obviously, this search must focus on public lands: waterfowl management areas, wildlife refuges, large reservoirs and rivers, military reservations, national forests, and other public lands that ducks and geese use in huntable numbers. Contact area waterfowl biologists and wildlife officers, and ask them for recommendations on overlooked opportunities.
I point to my own experience as an example of how this can work. I frequently hunt on two public management areas, two free-flowing rivers, and a huge Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment.
Both the management areas have numerous blinds and heavy pressure, but not the sections where I hunt. Several years ago I called the biologist who flies the local aerial waterfowl census during winter months, and I asked about possible freelancing spots. He told me about consistently seeing ducks in the far reaches of these two areas where hunters rarely venture. These are places where the water is shallow, the brush thick, and the mud deep. Based on his lead, I subsequently scouted and found potholes in both places that have proven to be reliable hunting spots. They're hard to access, but that’s why they're good.
I hunt the rivers when they're flooding or when a freeze is on. In either condition, large numbers of ducks and geese will shift to these big flowing waterways. And the reservoir is another freeze-out spot. It is close to the management areas and a refuge, and when the shallows lock up, the ducks head out to the big water.