—By Wade Bourne
When is the best time to look for a new duck hunting spot? Anytime you can. Savvy hunters are always alert for an opportunity. It may be a new spot on public land, a lease that suddenly opens up, or a property purchase that can provide reliable hunting opportunities for years to come. Regardless, there's no closed season on scouting, and no end to the possibilities hunters can uncover.
Over the years I've made a habit of scouting year-round, and have found that late spring and early summer are especially good times to do it. For example, several years ago I was bluegill fishing in early June on northwest Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake. The water level was high after a heavy rain. A friend who had spent his life guiding on the lake told me about a hole back in the timber that was hard to reach but offered good duck hunting when the water was up in the winter.
I decided to go looking for it. My friend had given me vague directions and pointed out the location of the hole on a map. So I began an exploration in my Go-Devil rig. I motored along narrow boat trails and through thick brush and cypress timber. If I couldn't go one way, I'd backtrack and head another. The water was shallow and the cover dense. But eventually I found the honey hole—a half-acre opening surrounded by ancient cypress trees. It was just right for a boat blind setup and a dozen decoys.
A friend and I returned on opening day the next November. As dawn broke, our first shot was at a big drake black duck that dropped in without circling. Since that morning, I've called this spot the Black Duck Hole. I've enjoyed several good hunts there over the years, but only when conditions are just right.
The point is that off-season scouting can lead to some valuable discoveries. But like a good detective, you have to keep alert to all possibilities and investigate thoroughly when a lead pops up.
Recording the location of promising new hunting areas with a GPS will help ensure that you can find secluded spots again during duck season.
Here are some tips on how to maximize your scouting potential:
- Use the Internet. Google Earth and similar websites provide high-resolution satellite imagery of just about any duck marsh you'd like to take a look at. It's like scouting from the air, except you can zoom in to check out particular spots in fine detail. When you identify a potential hunting site, look for ways to access it. Then make an off-season visit to the area to determine whether it has real possibilities.
- Talk to the experts. Waterfowl biologists, local game wardens, and other professionals often know about overlooked, underutilized public hunting spots. Not many hunters go through the trouble of seeking these professionals' advice. Those who do just might get a lead on a honey hole.
- Network with other hunters. Just this past spring a trusted friend gave me a heads-up on a rice field lease that had just become available. I contacted the landowner, looked at the property, researched it as best I could, and put down a deposit. This past season, my new lease provided some of the best duck hunting I've had in years, and I'm already looking forward to next opening day.
- Take a field trip. Go boating on lakes and rivers. Hike waterfowl management areas when they are dry and it's easier to get into remote areas. Take a drive to look for access points along rivers and streams.
- Knock on doors. The best time to ask permission to hunt from private landowners is long before the season begins. Take the time to chat and listen. It's all about building a relationship.
In summary, off-season scouting requires the moxie of a successful door-to-door salesman. Many trails will turn into dead ends. It's all part of the game. But make no mistake, sooner or later your efforts will be rewarded with the discovery of a productive new hunting area. These spots are just waiting to be discovered, and the excitement of finding one never grows old.
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