by Wade Bourne
For some duck hunters, ice is a plague.
A hard freeze can ruin a hunt and create hardships faster than just about anything. It can shoo ducks farther down the flyway. It can transform once-realistic decoys into motionless blobs.
Ice can wreak havoc on blinds and spreads. It can tear up equipment. It can endanger gun dogs and increase the difficulty in retrieving birds. These are all reasons why many duck hunters hate to see ice form.
But there is a flip side to this coin. Ice can also lead to—or accompany—some of the best hunting of the season. Harsh winter temperatures frequently bring new ducks. These birds are easier to work, and they can be more predictable in their habits. It's just that they're doing things differently from when the weather was milder and shallow waters were open.
Thus, veteran hunters change tactics when ponds and potholes turn into skating rinks. They know where to go, how to set up, and how to keep their hunting waters open so that ducks will keep coming. Here are several strategies for fighting ice—and winning. Follow the advice of these cold weather pros, and you will come to welcome ice instead of dreading its arrival.
Philip Sumner: Boat Motor Opens Shallow Water
Phil Sumner, of Clarksville, Tennessee, has been an avid waterfowler since boyhood. In recent years, Sumner has hunted on a lease with several shallow ponds that were planted and flooded to attract ducks. The only problem was that these ponds iced over when the temperature dipped to 31° F, and when they locked up, the birds stayed away.
Sumner devised a simple method for rectifying this problem. He owns a large V-hull aluminum boat with a 55-horsepower outboard for hunting on big lakes and rivers. One sub-freezing morning he hauled this rig to his lease, hooked it on behind his ATV, towed it to his favorite pond, and backed the boat in, breaking ice as he went. He backed the boat deep enough to submerge the motor's water intake to supply the cooling system. Then, with the boat still strapped to the trailer, he started the motor and engaged the forward gear. With the throttle half-open, the turning prop set up a strong current under the ice.
While the motor ran, Sumner began wading through the pond, breaking the ice into smaller chunks that would melt quicker in the swirling waters. Within 30 minutes, he had a wide-open hole almost an acre in size. He pulled the boat and trailer away from the pond. Then he returned, threw decoys out in the open muddy water, and hid in his blind. When ducks started coming, they decoyed with little hesitation.
Sumner continued this ice-melting ritual throughout the several-day freeze. The ice never formed so thick overnight that he couldn't break and melt it out again the next morning. By starting shortly after daylight, he could have his hole open and his decoys out within an hour. By then the sun and wind would keep the water open through the day. The result of his effort was a string of good hunts when other shallow water hunters were frozen out of their spots.