Duane Kovarik: Open a Hole off a Point
Duane Kovarik lives in Ord, Nebraska, and hunts mostly on Calamus Reservoir in the center of the state. Kovarik is a boat-blind hunter, setting up wherever he finds ducks working.
When freeze-up begins on Calamus, Kovarik changes tactics to stay in the action. He explains, "Ice will form first around the shoreline, but the middle of the lake will stay open longer. My partners and I chop ice out of the ramp so we can launch our boat, then we load in and break our way out to the open water."
Kovarik says he doesn't head out until first light, for safety's sake. Also, he's watched the weather forecast that morning to learn the direction of the prevailing wind. "This is extremely important," he emphasizes. "Ducks will go out to feed early, then they'll start coming back to water in mid-morning. If the wind's kicking up, they avoid the open water. Instead, they'll try to find a resting spot on the upwind side of the lake.
"So, we'll motor to the upwind side and find a point of land that juts out toward the open water. Again, there'll be a ring of ice around the shoreline. We'll break a hole in the ice just off the point and toss out our decoys. Then we'll set up the boat blind next to the bank and wait for the ducks to start coming back. When they do, they see that open hole and the decoys swimming around in it, and many of them will fall right in."
Kovarik says opening a large, clear hole in the ice is crucial to this strategy. He uses his boat to break an oblong hole measuring approximately 50x100 yards. He starts slowly, crunching through the ice to break the perimeter of the hole. Then he begins circling inside this perimeter, breaking the ice into small pieces and rocking them with prop wash. This fresh, warmer water helps melt the surface ice, and the wind blows the chips to the upwind side of the hole.
"You really want to get that hole as clear as you can. Even if ducks start flying back to the lake, try to ignore them and keep working on the hole until it's wide open. Sometimes it takes up to 45 minutes running around and around before it's good enough. Then we throw out our decoys, set up our blind and get ready to shoot some easy birds."
Kovarik says the one thing that can thwart this strategy is a no-wind condition. "If the wind isn't kicking up, the ducks will raft up out in the open water in the middle of the lake instead of looking for shelter along the shoreline. With this style of hunting, no wind is a bad thing."