3. Locate Rested Birds
By the time waterfowl reach their wintering grounds, the birds have received a thorough baptism by fire. They have become ultra-wary of blinds, decoys and calling
. At these times, the best way for waterfowlers to enjoy consistent success is to locate "rested" ducks and set up in places where the birds feel safe.
This is certainly the case where George Cochran hunts. A professional bass fisherman based in Hot Springs, Arkansas
, Cochran chases ducks every day of the season, mostly on Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area southwest of Stuttgart. This 30,000-acre expanse of flooded timber receives heavy hunting pressure, and by late December, ducks learn to avoid open holes and big decoy spreads
"By Christmas they're rafting up in thick places—sloughs with a lot of buck brush or younger, thicker timber," Cochran notes. "The ducks pile into these spots to rest and feed on acorns. They don't call much. Unless you see them going in, you can be close to them but won't know they're there."
Cochran and his buddies spend hours scouting for these hidden spots holding rested birds. "When you locate a fresh supply of ducks, if you shoot them two or three days in a row, they'll leave and go someplace else," he says. "So when we finish a hunt one morning, we'll go looking for new resting places. When one spot plays out, we always try to have a new, undisturbed place waiting."
When Cochran locates rested ducks, he hunts them "with kid gloves on." He uses only a few decoys and a jerk string to ripple the water's surface. He calls to passing ducks one time to get their attention, and then he depends on feeding chatter to finish them.
"You've just got to be patient and let them come when they want to. But if you call too much, they're usually going to get suspicious and leave," he says.
Besides Bayou Meto, Cochran also hunts along the White and Cache rivers when late-winter rains flood the surrounding
bottomlands. "There are some 200,000 acres of hardwoods that flood in this region, and the ducks get in them thick," he explains. "I've learned that if the water starts dropping where you've been hunting, you need to move farther downstream. The ducks follow the crest of the flood. Areas where the water is highest and freshest is where you'll find the most ducks, and if you get there before most other hunters do, you can have some fantastic shooting."