Waterfowl are moving with the cold December winds, and hunters throughout the country are preparing for the winter flights. The DU E-newsletter editorial team has selected four of the most time-tested dabbler hunting tips for you to focus on this season. Remembering these four essentials can help you improve your calling, decoys, concealment and shooting.
1. Finish Ducks with Contented Quacks
Rather than use a feed call when ducks are working close, three-time world-champion caller Mike McLemore of Huntingdon, Tenn., blows a continuous series of short, low quacks to steer ducks into gun range. "This works both in timber and fields," McLemore explains. "When a flight is making its final turn, when the ducks are getting ready to 'do it,' I'll blow a series of lonesome hen quacks to guide them in. It's sort of like being the pied piper. They'll lock onto those quacks and float right to the call."
McLemore emphasizes that these quacks are short instead of drawn out. They are low in pitch and volume, and they have approximately ½ to 1 second between notes. "I'll blow these calls until it's time to shoot. Ducks will just pick up on them and come right to you. In my opinion, this is a better way to land ducks than using a feed call."
2. Muddy Water in Decoys Simulates Feeding Activity
Tommy Akin of Greenfield, Tenn., has hunted ducks more than 40 years in west Tennessee's flooded timber and fields. Akin and his lease partners know from experience that muddy water in and around their decoys is attractive to ducks overhead. He says, "When real ducks feed in a flooded corn or soybean field, they stir up mud off the bottom when they're grubbing around after grain. The effect is like a muddy cloud in the water.
"We simulate this by driving a four-wheeler through our decoys to kick up mud. (Akin's spread floats in only 12 inches of water.) We do this every morning before we start hunting, and we'll do it again a couple of hours later if the mud starts settling out.
"Ducks are greedy birds, and when they see what they think is feeding going on, sometimes they can't wait to drop in to get their share. We've experimented with this enough to know that having that muddy water really makes a difference, especially on high-flying birds that can look down and see the mud before they can see the decoys."
3. Camouflage Face and Hands to Hide from Ducks
Hunters who hunt from pit blinds in open fields must take extra precautions to keep ducks from seeing their face and hands, says Walter L. Williams III of Monroe, La. Williams has flown over his pit in north-central Louisiana while it was occupied by friends, and he was surprised at how uncovered faces and hands showed up in the pit opening. "Those big 'pie faces' stood out like you wouldn't believe, and so did the hands. This made me realize how easy it is for ducks to see hunters, and it convinced me of the necessity to put so much camouflage on the shooting-hole flaps that you can't see through them.
"The caller is the only person who should be exposed," Williams continues. "Everybody else should stay under cover and absolutely avoid looking up until it's time to shoot. Also, hunters who are wading outside blinds should use headnets and camo gloves to cover these exposed skin areas. I know that just taking these simple precautions will help a hunter bag more ducks."
4. Let Instinct Take Over When Figuring Lead
Many hunters concern themselves with holding the proper lead on ducks, and, for sure, having the right lead is necessary for clean kills. However, it's hard to learn leads. Each shot is different in terms of flight angle and speed. Some shots are head-on, some going away, some passing at 90 degrees. Some shots are at ducks floating in slowly or hovering over decoys, while others are at birds crossing at full speed. If you have to consciously think about how much lead to hold, you're probably going to miss.
Instead, let instinct take over. Concentrate on focusing on your target and simply following it with your shotgun. Your brain will automatically figure how much lead to hold, and if your gun fits properly and you have good shooting form, you will connect. Yes, this sounds overly simple, but this instinctive method of achieving proper lead really works. Focus on the other shooting fundamentals, and lead will take care of itself.