In all four major North American flyways, hunters refine fields to attract waterfowl. Those who do so successfully know that the first step (as we learned the hard way) is to pick a field the birds like.
Then hunters must build good blinds, set attractive decoy spreads, call effectively, and manage shooting pressure so as not to burn the field out.
Following is advice in all these areas from three men with years of experience in hunting open fields. Frank Mackey of Clarksville, Missouri, develops and manages duck clubs in the Mississippi River bottoms.
Harry "King of Quack" Boyle of Chico, California, has been a professional guide for 30 years. And Craig McCarty of Monroe, Louisiana, has guided and managed duck clubs in three southern states for the past eight seasons.
Each of these men knows the secrets of bagging ducks in big flooded fields. They also know that small miscues can lead to major failures, so they've learned to avoid them.
Readers who do likewise, and who follow these veterans' advice, will see their success rates improve when open field hunting.
Picking the Right Spot
Who knows why ducks go where they go and like what they like? Sometimes a spot that looks good to a hunter will be shunned by the birds, which will, in turn, fog into another place that has absolutely nothing to distinguish it.
"I stopped trying to figure ducks out a long time ago," says Mackey. He says hunters should simply go to the ducks instead of trying to force the ducks to come to them.
"We don't know what they see and how they think," Mackey reasons, "and I don't believe we'll ever understand why they prefer one place over another that's similar in location, food, and so on.
So my advice is to simply be observant and let the ducks tell you where to hunt.
"But when you're developing a new field, and you haven't watched ducks work it, then you just have to take a chance and hope they like it," Mackey continues. "Sometimes you'll hit a home run, and other times you'll pop out."
Boyle and McCarty both hunt in harvested, flooded rice fields, and they agree that a field can be made more attractive to ducks by disking or rolling, standard agricultural practices that also break down rice stubble and help farmers prepare fields for subsequent plantings.
"Disking turns the bottom into a gooey mess, exposing roots and invertebrates that ducks love," Boyle explains. "This is a legal and accepted way of making a field attractive to ducks.
It can change a not-so-good field into one that's really productive."
McCarty opts for mashing rice field stubble down with a heavy roller. He says pushing the vegetation down allows the water to be more visible to ducks at longer distances.
"Rolling makes a field look like a little lake, and I definitely recommend rolling the entire field," he adds.