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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Game Plan for Late-Season Ducks

Adapt to changes in birds' behavior to enjoy top-notch duck hunting in the final weeks of the season
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Adjust to extreme conditions

Significant changes in water conditions often dictate where ducks will feed and loaf and where late-season hunters will find them. When a freeze hits, ducks generally move from shallow, freeze-prone spots to nearby areas where the water will remain open longer. A typical scenario would be birds leaving sloughs and flooded fields for open water on a lake or river. Ducks might linger in these areas for two or three days. If freezing conditions persist, they will move farther south to find better feeding conditions. But as soon as the freeze recedes, ducks can show up again quickly, gravitating to areas that thaw out first (usually, the last places to freeze).

When a hard freeze occurs, ducks sometimes pack into an area with open water, using their body heat and water movement to keep the hole open. Late-season hunters who scout and find these open holes can experience unbelievable shooting. In this situation, flush the ducks and then pack decoys tightly into the hole to resemble how the birds were utilizing the spot. It's also a good idea to put some full-body decoys on the ice around the hole.

Flooding is also possible in the late season, and following heavy rains, ducks throng to newly inundated fields and woods for the fresh food that becomes available. A January flood can draw spectacular numbers of ducks and provide fantastic shooting.

Finishing Strong

I once talked to an Arkansas hunter who made an advantageous late-season discovery. A hard freeze had locked up all the shallow water, and ducks were sitting tight on area refuges. But this hunter learned that the birds were flying out in early afternoon to feed in harvested soybean fields after the sun had thawed the mud enough for the ducks to pick up waste beans. This hunter and his friends enjoyed great shooting lying on the ground beneath mud-smeared tarps where the ducks had been feeding.

This is a good example of adjusting tactics to late-season conditions. Hunters who recognize opportunity and know how to take advantage of it can stay in the action right to closing day. Then you can end the season with a snicker of satisfaction instead of a sigh of relief.

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