By Matt Young
All waterfowlers share a common desire to improve their hunting skills and, consequently, enjoy greater success in the marshes and fields. When the editors of Ducks Unlimited magazine first sought to compile North America's greatest waterfowling tips, they had to look no further than the organization's members and volunteers, whose ranks are filled with many of the world's most dedicated and experienced waterfowlers.
Over the past decade, the Ducks Unlimited magazine has received well over 1,000 waterfowling tip submissions from DU members throughout the U.S. and Canada. Many of the best were published in DU's highly popular book 161 Waterfowling Secrets, while others have been featured in the magazine's "Mixed Bag" section.
The following is a selection of classic waterfowling tips submitted by DU members over the years, all of which are sure to help you become a more successful waterfowler.
One of the greatest pleasures in waterfowling is enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea in the duck blind on a cold morning, and many waterfowlers carry a thermos in their gear bag for this purpose. Cleaning the unsightly stains left in a thermos after a season of heavy use, however, can be a problem no amount of scrubbing can cure. An easy solution is to use denture cleaning tablets sold at your local drugstore or supermarket, which will remove the toughest stains from the steel, plastic, or glass interior of most thermoses.
—John and Donna Pittenger, Fergus Falls, Minnesota
I use a small spring snap-style carabiner to keep many small, handy accessories that tend to get lost while hunting, such as a choke tube wrench, small Swiss Army knife, earplugs, thermometer/ compass zipper pull, small AAA-cell flashlight, and spare truck key. I attach these items to the carabiner with small split key rings that allow for quick removal. This handy gadget can be clipped inside a jacket pocket or to a shell bag. Carabiners are available at most sporting goods stores and locksmiths, and at some hardware stores.
—Michael Simmons, Madison, Mississippi
Don't throw away your prescription bottles; use them for choke tube containers. I mark the bottle with waterproof tape, color-coded and labeled to indicate the make, gauge, and choke constriction. The bottles are durable, waterproof, and compact, making them a perfect replacement for misplaced choke tube cylinders.
—Robert Goding, Holland, Michigan
Many hunters spend a weekend or two each fall cutting willow and oak branches to brush their duck blinds. One weekend last spring, I dug up the rhizomes (roots) of cattails and young willow saplings and planted them in the mud around my blind. They grew well over the summer and made my blind much less conspicuous this season. In the future, a little pruning will be all that is needed to prepare my blind for the hunting season.
—Mark Ernst, Bedford, Texas
Geese are easy to age. Simply look at their tail feathers. Juvenile geese have a V notch at the tip of their tail feathers. Adult geese, however, have a rounded or pointed tip on their tail feathers.
—Fran Gough, Macungie, Pennsylvania
The philosophy behind the movement of decoys is to make the decoy seem alive and draw the ducks' attention. Most of the new motion decoys, however, are expensive and can be a hassle to operate in some hunting areas. An inexpensive solution is to tie some of your decoy anchor lines around the center of the keel, using a cleat hitch. This makes the decoys much more responsive to wind and current than when the lines are tied to either end of the keel.
—Steve Mayes, Hopkinsville, Kentucky
How does your duck calling sound? If you are a beginning duck hunter or a seasoned veteran, you can improve your calling by listening to yourself. This can be accomplished by recording yourself with a tape recorder. Listen for weaknesses in your repertoire, then practice to improve them.
—Matthew Johnson, Lawrence, Kansas
A great way to put a realistic camo paint job on your duck boat or other equipment is to use pieces of tree branches with leaves as stencils for spray paint. Hold the natural stencil material near the boat and make a pass with the spray can, creating a faint, shadowy outline. Try to make shadowy images rather than hard, crisp impressions. Move around the boat, making spray patterns at different angles and with different colors. The end result will be a highly realistic camouflage that is much more aesthetic than most paint jobs you see at the local boat landing.
—Larry Robinson, Lupton, Michigan
If you ever have problems with lead weights chipping paint or leaving color stains on your decoys during transport and storage, try covering them with rubberized plastic coating. You can find this liquid at most hardware or home stores. Simply dip your weights in the liquid and set them out to dry. One can will cover several dozen weights. I also use this material to coat my goose decoy stakes so they won't rust and corrode.
—Pete R. Gutbrod, Sheridan, Oregon
While pursuing crippled diving ducks, row upwind of the spot where the duck dove last. This will give you the advantage of having the wind at your back when the duck resurfaces. Also, try to keep the boat in a position so the duck will surface to the left if the shooter is right-handed and to the right if the shooter is left-handed.
—Patrick Horvath, Greenfield, Wisconsin
Before the season opens, I place an old piece of cane pole 30 yards in front of my blind. I measure the distance using a length of string. Once the season opens, the first thing I do in the morning is find my marker and place my favorite oversized bluebill decoy beside it. Then, I place my spread between this decoy and the blind. This is a simple way to ensure that any decoying ducks will be within proper killing range. This has helped us keep crippling losses near zero for a number of seasons.
-Patrick Horvath, Greenfield, Wisconsin
I've found a trick that saves both money and space for those who hunt both Canada and snow geese with shell decoys. By purchasing extra snow goose heads and placing them on Canada decoys, a hunter can multiply his or her snow goose decoy spread at a much reduced cost. From near or far, the white-headed decoys appear to be mature blue geese that are intermingled with lesser snow goose flocks.
—James F. Schatz, Bruceton, Tennessee
For many years, I hunted ducks from a small, two-person plastic boat with a trolling motor powered by a battery. For a headlight, we used a fisherman's floating crappie light-essentially a car headlight mounted in a styrofoam case. This inexpensive lamp provides plenty of light on small waters and will float if dropped overboard.
—Mark Miller, Bettendorf, Iowa
Looking for a readily available material for camouflaging your duck blind? Try using pampas or ornamental grass that is widely used for landscaping. A good time to find it is in the winter, after it has died, when many landscapers are glad to get rid of it. Try inquiring at golf courses, which often use a lot of this vegetation. Use gloves when working with the grass, because some varieties will have sharp edges. This durable, natural material blends well with most autumn marsh vegetation and can be easily affixed to boats or blinds.
—F. Schlenk, via e-mail
I hunt a lot of shallow marshes requiring scouting by foot in the early hours of the morning. For this type of scouting, your trusty pocket flashlight will not provide enough light to see more than 10 feet in front you.
To help me find hidden holes in the dark, I take a Q-beam and a motorcycle battery (much lighter than your car battery) stored in a modified, hard plastic cooler. I cut two holes in the top of the cooler lid to tightly slide over the battery terminals and lock in place.
This not only helps keep the Q-beam clips secured to the terminals, it also keeps the battery from getting wet. Now you can scout all over the marsh and report back to your buddies at the boat, "I found it. Grab a bag of decoys!" Carrying the Q-beam and battery is now the easy part.
—Nathan E. Miller, Jacksonville, Florida
When cleaning up waterfowl at home or back at camp, be sure to place the birds in the side of the kitchen sink that does not contain the garbage disposal. Unlike softer lead shot, an errant steel shot pellet, especially large shot sizes, can lock up your disposal and cost you an expensive plumbing bill.
—T. Knighten Starnes Jr., North Little Rock, Arkansas
True North Memory Aid
Dabbling ducks typically land short of decoys. Early season-use more hens than drakes. Calling will add realism to your decoys. Offer the birds an inviting opening to land. You should keep puddler and diver decoys separate. Insure that ducks can land into the wind over your spread. Nasty, windy weather is a duck hunter's best friend. Go where the birds are.
—Chuck Kartak, Center City, Minnesota