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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Hunting Early Migrators

Get a jump-start on the hunting season
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Missouri Gray Ducks

In late summer, Ira McCuauley will see a fair number of blue-winged teal move through the moist-soil management areas found at Habitat Flats, a waterfowl hunting paradise in north-central Missouri, but come opening day hunters will often have a chance to see as many as nine different species of ducks.

The mixed-bag opportunities found during the early season are popular for those who hunt at Habitat Flats, but McCauley says that the birds – especially the gadwall, pintails and teal – aren't quite as fond of the attention.

"The main thing I see with our early gray ducks is that they are super sensitive to pressure, even more so than the mallards that will get here later," says McCauley. 

"So we try to keep our hunts short so that the birds have time to use the pools during the day without being harassed; otherwise, they will become nocturnal in a hurry."

To keep hunts short, McCualey says that it is important to scout out the exact spots where ducks want to be to in order to be able to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

McCauley generally uses 4 to 5 dozen GHG decoys in the early season, typically a mix of mallards, pintails, shovelors and teal; and to minimize conditioning the birds, the decoys are picked up after every hunt.

Calling is not as effective in the early season, McCauley says, but that doesn't keep him from trying.

"I certainly call less in the early season than I will later once we have more mallards, but at times the early birds will respond well," says McCauley. "A whistle works well early, too, because there are more pintails, teal and widgeon."

McCauley adds that the scouting, decoys and calling won't do you much good if the birds feel too much pressure.

"Remember, if you pressure these early migrants too much, they will move on, find a safe spot and sit there all day," says McCauley.

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