By John Pollman
The middle of the season is possibly the most challenging time for waterfowl hunters. During this period, ducks and geese are notorious for skirting decoy spreads , ignoring calls, and in some cases, simply disappearing. Following are some useful tips from three avid hunters to help solve the riddle that is mid-season waterfowl hunting .
Don't Give Up on Public Hunting Areas
Kent Contreras loves to hunt ducks and geese over water.
Specifically, this Avery pro-staffer loves the challenge of hunting on public rivers, backwater sloughs, ponds and lakes near his home in Newport, Washington.
By mid-season, though, hunting on these public areas can be challenging, but Contreras says that good hunting opportunities are still there.
"After the first few weeks of the season, the hunting is going to slow down," Contreras says. "When this happens, you may need to work a little harder and change your tactics to have a successful hunt."
For starters, Contreras spends more time scouting small ponds, creeks and rivers. He looks for small, out-of-the-way honey-holes - protected potholes or shallow, open wetlands that have little cover - areas that other hunters may simply overlook.
"You'll be surprised by how many birds use these spots," Contreras says. "Using a small layout boat or waterproof tub for your layout blind will give you access to areas that typically are not hunted."
When hunting wary mid-season birds, Contreras likes to use the most realistic decoys he can find. Decoy placement is also important. "If the birds are loafing on the shorelines and hanging close to shore, I'll place my decoys in similar positions," he says. "If they are dabbling offshore and staying in groups, I'll do the same. This is a good starting point for the morning, and I can adjust the spread as the day progresses."
And one other small bit of advice: be on time.
"Be ready to shoot by hunting light," Contreras says. "Early morning flights can provide your only shooting of the day. If you're still setting decoys at shooting light, you may miss out on your only opportunities."
Changes for Canada Geese
Kevin Addy hunts in an area of southeastern Pennsylvania that can hold large numbers of Canada geese
. The only problem is this area also receives heavy hunting pressure. After the season has been open a few weeks, geese become conditioned to what hunters are doing. One way to keep the birds guessing, Addy says, is to try tactics the geese haven't seen before.
"We experiment throughout the season," says Addy, who is a member of the Avery Outdoors pro staff. "Just because we have a trailer full of decoys doesn't mean that we have to put them all out on opening day. We really work hard not to condition the birds to a certain pattern of hunting. I am a firm believer in mixing things up.
"The bottom line is that pressured geese still need to go out and eat," he adds. "Think outside the box and just keep trying different things with your decoys, calling and concealment. Eventually, you'll find something that works."
Watch the Weather and Stay Concealed
Central Missouri is home to some of the best waterfowling in the country, but even in this duck-rich area, mid-season hunting can prove to be a challenge.
When the going gets tough, Clint Roby turns an eye to the sky.
"I try to make the most of the weather when targeting pressured birds. I pay attention to the most recent weather forecasts and try to pick days - even times of the day - that I expect will increase my odds," Roby says.
This may mean waiting several days to hunt a certain spot until the right weather conditions
occur. "There's no use spoiling a good hole if the wind is wrong or the sky cover - or lack thereof - will cost you a good hunt," he says.
Roby is also a stickler about concealment.
"By the middle of the season, a good portion of the material hunters put on their blinds before opening day has either changed color, deteriorated, or been removed by that guy in the group who just can't stand to be closed in," Roby says. "Take some time throughout the season to freshen up the cover on your blind and close up any gaping holes."
Experience has shown Roby that the extra time required to add brush to a blind is a worthwhile investment.
"It's all worth it when you park that flock of mallards that has circled half a dozen times trying to decide if it's safe or not," he says.