“The only time I don’t try to hunt right on the X is when a very large number of birds are concentrated in one area because of ideal habitat conditions,” Goodpaster continues. “I’ll then try to avoid disturbing the main concentration of birds with gunfire by hunting the ‘edge’ several hundred yards downwind. This provides great shooting for singles, pairs, and small flocks.”
“I spend a lot of time watching birds,” Swineford says. “I want to know where they’re working, and I also want to hunt where I’ll have the wind at my back. If possible, I want ducks or geese coming straight upwind to land. This provides the best shots for my clients, and it helps us bag our birds quickly and get out of the marsh, which minimizes disturbance for the remaining birds.
“Three elements are required for holding waterfowl on a property: water, food, and rest,” Swineford adds. “We have the water and food, so our main challenge is managing disturbance. The less we disturb the birds, the more they will stick around. Taking low percentage, long-range passing shots generally increases disturbance because we have to fire more shells to get a limit of birds. So by getting our ducks and geese in close and taking only high-percentage shots, we reduce the disturbance factor. It’s truly a management tool.”
Disappear from View
Goodpaster hunts mostly from layout boats and small natural-cover brush blinds, while Swineford guides from pits and three-man A-frame blinds situated throughout the Blandfield property. Despite the differences in how they hunt, they share the same convictions about the need to disappear totally from the view of circling birds.
“I go to great lengths to hide my layout boats and myself,” Goodpaster says. “Some hunters believe that using layout boats is a guarantee of success, but it’s not. You still have to blend them into the natural cover. Then, once you are lying inside the boat, you have to be patient and remain totally motionless when ducks are circling overhead.”
Goodpaster positions his layout boats where natural cover will help conceal them. “I like to set up in good cover such as marsh grass, smartweed, cattails, or a stand of willows,” he says. “I especially like some natural high cover around my boat, because this will help shield movement when I come up to shoot.”
Goodpaster covers his boat with an old piece of canvas, then army surplus camo netting, and finally natural vegetation on top. “It’s just a fact: ducks are going to see you if you don’t cover up well,” he explains. “This is especially true on cloudy days. I spend at least 30 minutes before each hunt trying to get everything just right.”
When hunting, Goodpaster wears a facemask and sometimes holds a handful of natural cover in front of his face when ducks are working. “And I stay absolutely still,” he emphasizes. “I don’t try to watch ducks when they’re circling behind me. What really matters is that I can see them well when they come back around over the decoys. I rarely hunt with more than one other hunter, and I hunt by myself a lot because the more hunters you have to hide, the harder it is to keep everybody completely hidden and still.
“I also think many hunters focus too much on being ready at shooting time, and they ignore the need to cover up well,” Goodpaster continues. “If I think I need to, I’ll take the extra time to get everything just right, even if it means missing that first opportunity of the morning. This is a good investment for a quality shoot, especially with late-season birds.”
Swineford’s prefabricated three-man marsh blinds measure four by eight feet on the floor, and the front and back panels slope inward to a 33-inch-wide shooting hole at the top. The sides measure 40 inches tall. “We cover our blinds with natural cordgrass,” he says. “We stand the grass up six feet across the back and ends of the blind and five feet across the front, so the grass is pretty tight around the shooting hole. When our hunters are sitting on the bench, they are always hidden in the shadows. Also, the blinds rest right on the mud, and their profile blends right in with the natural vegetation.
“Our guides paint their faces so they can watch the ducks work and know when to call,” he continues. “We let our clients watch the birds work, too. That’s just part of the fun of the hunt. But we encourage them to keep their movements to a minimum and to stay down under the cover. If ducks see any movement in the blind, they’re gone.”
Swineford also uses field pits for hunting ducks and Canada geese. “We bundle cordgrass together and lay the bundles over the shooting holes,” he explains. “We’ll totally cover the shooting hole from one end of the pit to the other. When birds are in range, hunters push the bundles aside and come up to shoot.”