by Wade Bourne
Some days, public hunting areas provide top quality shooting, with plenty of ducks, a lack of pressure and birds rivaling those of the best private clubs.
However, other areas and days offer the opposite scenario – “duck wars,” similar to range wars of the Old West. Competition for good spots is keen and sometimes fractious. Encroaching “neighbors” are a source of aggravation. Calling duels and sky- busting are the norm. Boats running, hunters chasing cripples and a host of other disturbances inhibit a hunter’s chances of working ducks in close. All too frequently, the frustrations of public areas outweigh their pleasures.
Still, legions of waterfowlers hunt on public lakes, refuges and management units. For many, these areas are their only option. Thus, their fowl fortunes rise or fall according to their ability to deal with the pressure and stay one step ahead of their competition. Quite simply, those who hunt smarter fare better.
Following are tips to improve your duck hunting success on public areas. This advice applies both to areas where hunters are allowed to freelance-hunt and where they are restricted to hunting from fixed blinds only.
1. Go Early
Hunters who head out early will have access to the best spots. Some areas don’t allow hunters in before a designated hour, while others are open at all hours. Be sure to check regulations, and “out-early” the competition to lay claim to a good hole.
2. Go Late
If “early” isn’t inviting or feasible, go late. Go hunting after the “early morning rush,” and look for a hole where an early party has limited and left. Or, go late, head to a popular hole and “get in line,” waiting for the occupying party to leave. Frequently the best shooting on public areas comes in mid-morning.
3. Go the First Morning After a Rest Period
Many public areas are hunted over weekends, then they are rested a couple of days to limit hunting pressure. Then, when an area reopens after a rest, birds are usually more plentiful and more willing to work. Harvest figures show the day following rest days provide better shooting on public areas.
4. Go During Weekdays
This is self-explanatory. Hunter pressure is almost always lighter during the week than on weekends, and the birds work better. Go after a heavy rain. Heavy rains and subsequent rising water flood new areas that attract swarms of new ducks. Find such a hotspot, and shooting can be phenomenal.
5. Go After a Frontal Passage
Cold fronts bring fresh ducks that aren’t decoy and call-shy. Watch the weather forecast, and plan a public land hunt on the morning during or after a front passes, regardless of how slight it might be. If the wind is from the north, chances are new birds might show up.
6. Go Later in the Season
The early season typically draws big crowds on public areas, but the hubbub dies down a few weeks into the season, and hunter pressure usually subsides.
7. Hunt “Different”
Change hunting tactics to be different from what other hunters are using. Reduce your decoy spread to a small number. “Hide” your decoys around the edge of a hole instead of placing them in the middle. Use a jerk string and minimal calling. Experiment with different tricks to see what will fool pressure-educated ducks.
8. Stay Mobile
Use boats, 4-wheelers, foot power or other available and legal means to move toward ducks and away from other hunters. Learn how to access hard-to-reach areas. Devise a decoy strategy to match your mobility. Scout continuously, and be quick to move if ducks are working someplace else.