by Chris Jennings
Back in the day, waterfowl hunters relied on tools such as the Farmer's Almanac for weather and migration predictions. They rowed boats across open bays and got word-of-mouth advice on hunting locations and bird activity. Technology now provides waterfowl hunters with Doppler weather reports, migration maps and handheld GPS units. The problem is that many hunters don't utilize this technology, mainly because they don't know how.
The Internet is an endless resource and a great starting point for pre-season or mid-season scouting trips. Aerial imagery, topographic maps and road atlases can get hunters to a location quickly and safely without having to waste time getting lost on a back road. These maps, similar to what is offered through DU's Waterfowl Migration Map can be printed out and followed precisely. Other map servers can provide exact coordinates to boat ramps, access points and even the diner down the street to enjoy a celebratory breakfast after a successful hunt.
When scouting and hunting for Ducks Unlimited Television, DU Media Relations Biologist Mike Checkett uses aerial images on a regular basis in combination with road work.
"There are a lot of times where we see birds going down into an area that has no road access and that we might not know was even there," he explains. "This is where the aerial images come into play and we can locate the wetland and put together a plan on how we can get to that spot. When we are freelancing for the television show, we spend a lot of time glassing areas and then comparing what we are seeing to aerial photos and landowner maps."
Waterfowl hunters sometimes don't utilize these resources that are out there because they don't know where to start. Any online mapping site can provide detailed maps hunters can use to compare with what they are seeing when scouting and many public property maps can be found on state agency Web sites.
This used to be the Farmer's Almanac's time to shine. Now, real-time weather patterns can be followed by radar on mobile phones. The trick here is to notice what's going on north of your location. Birds are going to migrate—when and where is the waterfowl hunter's crap shoot. Knowing when a cold front will push through an area offers hunters the opportunity to get in the field when the birds will be there.
"The DU Waterfowl Migration Map utilizes real-time weather updates from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration," explains DU Director of Digital Media and Marketing Anthony Jones. "This tool allows waterfowl hunters to access weather patterns for their exact hunting location just before they walk out the door to head to the blind. Knowing if the wind or weather will change mid-morning might mean staying in the field longer and bagging more birds. It can be very helpful."
While the DU Waterfowl Migration Map is the obvious first-choice resource in this category, there are other migration reports out there. Many state agencies have waterfowl survey reports posted regularly on their Web sites that can provide hunters with numbers and an idea of how many birds are in their area. A great example of this is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which offers a weekly migration report (pdf) online that can be accessed by everyone. This information obviously benefits hunters in Minnesota, but a decrease in numbers in this report also tells hunters south of this region when they can expect their local activity to increase.
"Hunters should check the waterfowl survey reports from not only their state agency, but the states north of them to see what's coming," Checkett says. "The reports can be yet another great resource that provides a snapshot of the migration in their flyway."
Hunting reports posted by Avery Pro-Staff members can be another great online tool. Pro-Staffers post bird numbers, weather conditions and what particular decoy spreads and calls worked for them in the field. Knowing that local mallards in an area have a tendency to flare off from heavy calling can give hunters a much-needed heads-up before sitting down in the blind.
While some hunters are still flipping through the Farmer's Almanac and guessing where the birds might be going, others are using interactive, innovative and precise online tools to improve their success in the field. Utilizing Internet resources may be a sticking point for some waterfowl hunters, but those that spend time accessing the volumes of information available on the Web may end up bagging more birds throughout the season.