By Wade Bourne
For some waterfowl hunters, it’s a point of pride to get the birds so close they can almost feel the wind off their wings. Forget the treetop and edge-of-range shots. These hunters want ducks and geese backpedaling in their faces.
“I take great pleasure in not shooting birds until they’re fully committed and hanging over the decoys,” says Gary Goodpaster of Collierville, Tennessee. A former regional director for Ducks Unlimited, Goodpaster has pursued ducks for more than 45 years. He now hunts mostly in Arkansas on permanent moist-soil areas. “I rarely shoot at ducks that haven’t decoyed within 25 yards.”
“Getting ducks and geese in close is what this sport is all about,” echoes Bobby Swineford, who has hunted waterfowl for 56 years and currently manages waterfowl hunting at Blandfield Plantation on Virginia’s Rappahannock River. “For me, the ultimate moment is when birds come in and stick their landing gear down right in front of the blind. That’s the premier moment in this sport. I’ve won. I’ve fooled them, and the shooting is anticlimactic.”
Getting ducks and geese in close over the decoys may be more challenging on some days than others, but both of these waterfowlers committed years ago to strive toward that goal on every hunt. They have refined their skills and developed the patience to succeed. By following their advice, other hunters will improve their success while also increasing their enjoyment of waterfowling.
Scout for Success
Goodpaster says the first step in getting ducks in close is setting up exactly where they want to be. “I’m not talking about 50 yards away,” he emphasizes. “I mean right on the X whenever possible. I spend a lot of time scouting to find this sweet spot. I prefer to scout during the same time I plan to hunt the next day, either morning or afternoon.”
If he can’t determine the X from long distance, Goodpaster will walk in carefully with binoculars to find the exact location of the birds. “Even if I get a little too close and move them off their spot, they’ll usually come right back in,” he says. “Meanwhile, I’ll get a firsthand look and also a chance to figure out how to set up for the next day’s hunt.