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Waterfowler's Notebook: Hunting Small-Water Divers

Going small for diving ducks can yield big results
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  • photo by Ron Charest
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By Wade Bourne

Most waterfowl hunters associate diving ducks with big water—the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Pool 9 on the upper Mississippi River, and other areas that draw rafts of these birds during fall and winter. But divers can also be found on prairie potholes, farm ponds, small lakes, sloughs, and sheltered coves on larger bodies of water, where small spreads and tactics tailored to those habitats can yield great but often overlooked hunting opportunities for these birds. 

Just ask Scott Glorvigen of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Each fall, he and a couple of buddies head to the Dakotas to hunt diving ducks on these states' bountiful potholes and sloughs. Since most waterfowlers on the prairies target puddle ducks and geese, Glorvigen and his friends encounter little competition and enjoy consistent shooting using tactics they have developed specifically for hunting diving ducks on small waters. These same strategies will work for divers in similar settings across the nation.

"The key to hunting diving ducks is understanding their nature," Glorvigen says. "When they're traveling, they like to fly over water. They skirt around the ends of points and islands instead of flying over them. If there's a neck or channel between two small lakes, they will fly through the narrows instead of taking a shortcut over land to get from one side of the lake to the other."

Glorvigen and his hunting partners begin by scouting to identify flight patterns and pinpoint where diving ducks are resting. Once they've located a good place to hunt, they use small kayaks to cross deeper water to reach points and channels, and set up their small spread before daylight.

"We use only 18 decoys on small bodies of water," Glorvigen says. "We'll set a group of a dozen decoys directly in front of us and run a line of six downwind from the main spread. Hopefully, with this setup, ducks flying around a point or through a channel will intersect the line and then turn and funnel into the main body of decoys."

Glorvigen's spread consists mainly of bluebill and ring-necked duck decoys with a few drake canvasbacks and goldeneyes mixed in for added visibility. The key to hunting divers with a small spread is setting the decoys in the right place. "If the ducks don't like our setup, they'll let us know it," Glorvigen explains. "They'll swing wide instead of coming in. They may not like how we have our decoys deployed. They may be seeing us on the bank, or the wind may have shifted. Whatever the reason, if they're not coming in, we're quick to make a change. With a small spread, we can usually do this by moving three or four decoys, losing only five minutes of hunting time."

One thing these hunters always try to do is provide the ducks an open landing area with an obvious flight lane to get to it. Sometimes this means adding a second line of decoys on the other side of the spread to create a horseshoe pattern. Or it might mean adjusting the spread in response to a change in wind direction. "When the ducks tell us they don't like what we've got, we change something," Glorvigen says. "We'll keep experimenting with our setup until we find one the ducks are comfortable with."

Glorvigen sums up the merits of small-water diver hunting this way: "You get all the thrills of diver hunting with only a fraction of the effort it takes to hunt big water. The ducks come just as fast, and when you're set up properly, they're just as committed. Then all that's left is the shooting. And that," he adds with a smile, "can be another story!"

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