Creative Tactics for Suburban Birds

Handy advice for hunting waterfowl near metropolitan areas 
By John Pollman

Drive through a city near a major waterfowl flyway and odds are you'll see hundreds of ducks and geese loafing on a shopping mall pond or grubbing away on green grass in a park or on a football field—safely out of reach of waterfowl hunters. At least they think they're safe!

With a little creativity, it's possible to have great waterfowl hunting just beyond the city limits. In fact, for the past 17 years, Ben Cade hasn't had to travel far from his home 25 miles northwest of Minneapolis to hunt Canada geese, mallards, and the occasional wood duck.

Here's how this savvy hunter makes it happen.

Scout for Success

"Both ducks and geese have adapted to using suburban areas for roosting locations, resting spots, and even feeding areas," says Cade, who is a member of the Avery Pro Staff. "That means some of the best hunting opportunities will be found nearby."

During the early season, that means simply waiting for ducks and geese to exhaust food sources in incorporated areas. Then the birds have to venture beyond municipal boundaries into areas where hunting is allowed. 

Cade says you can still obtain permission from landowners to hunt on property in outlying areas if you are conscientious and do your homework. "Landowners appreciate it when you know their name and their property boundaries when they open the door to talk to you. Plat books and online GIS systems are extremely valuable tools. Sometimes we'll also run into a landowner who hunts and simply invite him to hunt with us. We've gained access to some of our best fields this way."

On those days when it simply isn't possible to get permission to hunt a particular field that waterfowl are using, Cade says an unorthodox approach can bring success. "Sometimes all it takes is locating a field near a heavily used waterfowl flight lane. If you're not on the ‘A' field, you should have realistic expectations. We might have several hunts that are complete busts before we get into the birds really well."

Think Outside the Box

Since hunting pressure is often intense near population centers, keeping an open mind in how you hunt can pay big dividends. "If you hunt around a city, you have to be willing to think outside the box," Cade says. "For starters, consider hunting during the middle of the week instead of the weekend. Hunting pressure for waterfowl seems to decrease, too, when people get busy with the holidays or are distracted by other hunting seasons like the firearms deer opener."

Cade adds that you can't afford to overlook small, yet critical details when hunting these well-educated birds. Layout blinds need to be meticulously hidden and decoys arranged as naturally as possible. All hands should be "on deck" when it comes to grabbing the attention of passing birds. "We are usually pretty aggressive with our calling, but we're not afraid to change it up depending on the birds' reaction." 

Cade increases the size of his decoy spread as the season progresses. "We'll use up to as many as 20 dozen full-body Avery GHG decoys for Canada geese. When the weather gets cold, the birds typically feed in huge concentrations, so it's important to have a lot of decoys to draw them in."

Adapt and Overcome

It's especially important, Cade says, to be aware of your surroundings when hunting close to town. "We always make sure to hunt a part of the field that is a safe distance from buildings or any traffic passing by. If you follow the law and use common sense, there is no problem hunting in these areas."

Cade adds that for those willing to put in the time and effort, hunting waterfowl in suburban areas can be as good as anywhere in the nation. "I always tell guys that success comes from staying persistent. I might knock on 10 or 20 doors before I get permission to hunt a field. And if what I tried the day before didn't work, I'll try something different. You should never be afraid to experiment."