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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Notes from Duck Country

Expert advice for hunting ducks in a variety of classic habitats
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Habitats discussed in this article include:

  • Marshes & sloughs
  • Flooded fields
  • Open water
  • Ponds & streams
  • Flooded timber

By Will Brantley

No matter where you live in the United States, there’s probably a duck hunting opportunity close by. Indeed, variety is one of the best aspects of waterfowling. With that in mind, we’ve spoken with veteran duck hunters from around the country and compiled a list of notes, tips, and secrets for improving your hunting success in a variety of habitats. No matter where you hunt—marshes, flooded fields, potholes, streams, rivers, lakes, or flooded timber—there’s sound advice here you might be able to use this duck season.

Marshes and Sloughs

It’s difficult to imagine a more classic setting for a duck hunt than a marsh. Marsh hunting can be feast or famine, but when it’s good, the hunting can be up-close and exciting. Ducks often use marshes as resting areas, but the presence of aquatic vegetation, as well as various invertebrates, can make them primary feeding areas as well. 

Adjust your spread for the weather: Many salt marsh hunters use small decoy spreads. But at times, Tom Cornicelli, who guides waterfowlers in the salt marshes of Long Island, New York, does not hesitate to set a hundred mallard, black duck, and wigeon decoys. “If weather conditions are poor for puddle duck hunting, I want a big spread,” he says. “I know I’m not going to see many birds, so I want those I do see to look at a spread that stands out.”

Choose your duck dog carefully: It’s easy to lose a crippled duck in a dense cattail marsh, so a good retriever is essential. “I want a dog that is very quiet in the blind but also has good marking skills, a great nose, and the ability to handle crippled birds,” Cornicelli says. “If my Chessie is searching for a downed bird, she’ll keep hunting until she finds it or I call her off.”

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