by Wade Bourne
Deep winter offers duck hunters both challenge and opportunity. The late season cuts hunters little slack, but the last few weeks can also provide some of the best shooting of the year.
Here is how to adjust your hunting to the toughest weather elements: strong winds, ice, fog, heavy snow, and rain. Hunters who understand how these conditions affect ducks and who employ strategies designed around them can enjoy hot shooting in the waning days of the season.
"Strong winds will definitely make ducks come in easier—but you have to be in the right spot," says Duane Kovarik of Ord, Nebraska. Kovarik hunts from a boat-blind on large reservoirs in the north-central part of the state. He says it's not uncommon for winds to blow up to 40 miles per hour and for the lake's open water to resemble the North Atlantic.
"Usually ducks will sit on the main lake at night," Kovarik says. "They'll fly out at dawn to feed and start trickling back around midmorning. If the wind is kicking up, they'll look for sheltered areas to loaf for the rest of the day."
So Kovarik sets up in small sheltered coves on the upwind side of the lake. He hunts either from his boat-blind or from the bank. "Look for where trees or a hill shelters the upwind side of a cove," he says. "When a hard wind is blowing, a calm shoreline is like a magnet. Passing ducks will see your decoys and often come in without circling."
In this situation, Kovarik uses fewer decoys than normal. "I'll scale down to three dozen ducks and a dozen geese," he explains. "You don't need to do a lot of convincing. You just need enough decoys for passing birds to see."
Correspondingly, he also calls less than normal when it's windy. "I'll give passing birds one good hail series to make them look at the decoys," he says. "If they turn my way, there's usually no more need to call."
Kovarik stresses that hunters must exercise caution in strong winds. "Don't go out on rough water in a low-sided boat," he advises, "and don't put in where you have to cross open water. Always wear your life jacket when you're running, and don't go out until there's enough light to see where you're going. Just use common sense and remember that rough water and subfreezing temperatures can be a deadly combination for duck hunters."