by Wade Bourne
The spiraling flight of ducks reminded me of a child's top spinning across a flat table, only the table was a field of swathed barley and the birds, some 200 mallards, were eager to breakfast on the waste grain left among the stubble. I held desperately still in my layout blind as the lead birds descended toward our decoys. I watched but dared not move—not even an eyelid. The flock started landing around us. I could feel wind from the birds' backpedaling wings and hear them touching down on the straw-littered ground. I was mesmerized, exhilarated, even a little overwhelmed, but not so much so that I couldn't react when our guide finally barked, "Take 'em!" When he did, bedlam reigned . . . and then ducks rained!
Hunting ducks in dry fields is a challenging undertaking and a special pleasure. When ducks set their sights on a grainfield, they mean business, but cover is usually sparse in open fields, making it difficult for hunters to hide. Flights of field-feeding ducks are also typically large, which means many collective eyes scanning for danger. As a result, field-feeders commonly circle several times before lowering their flaps. But when they do, it's one of the most exciting moments in waterfowling.
Most dry-field duck hunting takes place in prairie Canada and in northern-tier states in early fall when the birds are staging for migration, but opportunities for dry-field hunting also exist down the flyways and into late winter. Dry-field hunting is less traditional down south, but it can be very productive for those who know when to try it and who have the right gear.
Several elements are necessary for success in dry fields. Hunters must find where ducks are feeding and must conceal themselves, usually in the wide open. They must also set out realistic decoy spreads and must call and shoot effectively.
"Dry-field hunting can be productive when more traditional methods aren't working," says Christian Curtis, of Sikeston, Missouri. "Ducks are under a lot of hunting pressure now, and what worked 20 years ago isn't working as well now. Sometimes it's the uncommon strategies that provide the best shooting, and when conditions are right, this one can be one of the best."
Here's how Curtis and other dry-field hunters take ducks when more traditional hunters may be struggling.