4. Adapt and Overcome
Above all else, success on public land requires a flexible mindset, broad-based hunting skills, and versatile equipment. Hunters must be ready to change locations and strategies when conditions dictate. When new opportunities arise, hunters must also have the equipment and the know-how to take advantage of them.
Bass fishing pro George Cochran of Hot Springs, Arkansas, has a duck camp just outside famed Bayou Meto WMA near Stuttgart. He enjoys hunting mallards and other dabblers in this vast tract of flooded timber more than anywhere else, but he doesn't look at empty skies long before seeking hunting opportunities elsewhere. Cochran has the boats, decoys, and other accessories that allow him to hunt a variety of habitat types across Arkansas. To stay informed, he maintains a network of hunting buddies, agency biologists, and other sources who have the pulse of the waterfowl migration in different parts of the state. If a particular WMA is producing more ducks than others, there's a good chance Cochran will be there.
Avery pro-staffer Curt Wilson of Sacramento, California, pursues a different strategy. He escapes hunting pressure—and finds ducks—by "going light." He straps on a backpack loaded with a few decoys and minimal gear and hikes and wades into areas where other hunters are unwilling or unable to go. In doing so, he consistently finds pockets of undisturbed ducks and enjoys high-quality hunting.
If it's impossible to get away from the crowd, another effective strategy is to simply watch and wait. This is a routine practice on many public hunting areas, where pressure is heavy and competition for prime spots is intense. Hunters who don't want to jockey for position in the predawn rush can join the "second shift" and still have a good shoot.
There's no question that hunting on public land is challenging, even for the most experienced and well-equipped waterfowlers. Places that are easy to find and access are all too often overrun with other hunters. But hunters who see possibilities others don't, and devise and implement strategies for turning these possibilities into realities, can enjoy waterfowl hunting on public land that is surprisingly high in quality and consistency.