Waterfowler's World: Scouting Smart

Expert tips on how to locate concentrations of waterfowl and prime hunting spots

Photo © TRAVIS MUELLER, BANDED.COM

By Bill Buckley

The key to just about any successful waterfowl hunt is being where the birds want to be. Fortunately, duck and goose hunters now have a number of useful tools at their disposal that make finding waterfowl and new hunting areas easier than ever.

Following are several handy tips that will help you make the most of your scouting time and improve your hunting success.

Embrace Technology

Thanks to the digital revolution, you can scout for potential waterfowl hot spots from the comfort of your own home. A great way to start is by downloading the Ducks Unlimited App. Features include the DU Migration Map, which will keep you informed about the latest waterfowl movements. The app's satellite map overlay offers a high-resolution bird's-eye view of the landscape, and another layer pinpoints the locations of national wildlife refuges across the United States. The DU app also links to state agency websites where you can access maps of public hunting areas and other useful information. 

Put Boots on the Ground

Technology is wonderful, but there's no substitute for on-the-ground reconnaissance. A map might show a promising pothole, but in a drought year it could be dry. Conversely, heavy rains can create backwater flooding in bottomlands and put sheet water in agricultural fields, which can attract large numbers of waterfowl. 

Network with Other Hunters

Just as in job hunting, successful waterfowling often depends on who you know. The more contacts you develop in the areas you hunt, the better you can gather important intelligence with just a few phone calls, emails, or texts. That means trading information with other hunters and developing relationships with landowners and wildlife biologists.

Follow the Birds

A classic scouting strategy for geese is to follow flights of birds from their roost to harvested grainfields or other feeding locations. Locate where a concentration of geese is feeding in the afternoon, and odds are good that the birds will be back in the same spot the next morning. A high-quality pair of binoculars is essential for this type of scouting. Another handy tool is the OnX Hunt App, which displays property boundaries and the names of private landowners on high-resolution satellite maps. 

Look for Places to Hide

Finding birds is only half the battle. You also must have adequate cover to conceal your hunting party. If there is nowhere to hide in the immediate area where waterfowl are actively feeding, look for nearby hiding spots where you can intercept the birds. 

Be a Weather Watcher

There's a reason why the TVs at many duck clubs are tuned continuously to the Weather Channel. Getting the lowdown on precipitation, cloud cover, temperature, and wind direction can help you determine the best place to set up the next morning. Weather forecasts can also help you predict when new flights of birds are likely to arrive in your area. 

Locate the Landing Zone

A mistake that hunters commonly make after locating a concentration of waterfowl is setting up where they found the birds, instead of where those birds actually landed. This is especially true on rivers and in flooded bottomlands, where waterfowl might land in one spot and then swim to other areas to feed and rest. That's why it's important to watch where the birds actually land while you're scouting. Also note the locations of tall trees and other landscape features that could impact where the birds are likely to approach in different wind conditions. 

Scout While You're Hunting

Even when the shooting is good, watch where other flights of ducks or geese are going, especially if those birds are landing. If you've set up in an unproductive spot, don't waste time waiting for a stray bird or two. Instead, get out and scout while the flight is on. Your next day's success may depend on it.