By Wade Bourne
Sometimes tradition can get in the way of a good duck shoot. Several years ago, I was in Arkansas for a hunt on a private green-timber reservoir. At breakfast, my host informed me, "If we don't get our limits by 9:30, we'll come in then."
"Why do you quit so early?" I inquired.
"That's just the way we've always hunted," my host responded. "The best shooting is usually in the first three hours of the morning. After that, we don't get much action."
I bit my lip and kept quiet, but I wanted to say, "You might be missing some of the best shooting of the day." Sometimes the midday period offers spectacular action. It can be a time when ducks work well or when flight birds show up.
For instance, one of my regular hunting locales is Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee. Reelfoot hunters typically get a flash of action the first hour or so in the morning, and then the shooting slacks off. But on many days, big flights appear in the 10 o'clock to noon period, and they are usually in a working mood. These ducks have fed in rice fields in northeast Arkansas or southeast Missouri and are returning to the lake to rest throughout the afternoon. They respond well to calling and the lure of the lake's big decoy spreads. Hunters who give up and head in too soon miss this return flight.
Another case in point: I talked to an Arkansas guide once who was hunting during a hard freeze. He and his clients were lying out in a barren soybean field on sunny days.
"We're getting set up by noon, and the ducks show up around one o'clock," he told me. "We figured out that in the morning, the birds can't grub the beans out of the frozen ground. But by early afternoon, the sun has thawed the field enough for the ducks to pick the beans out of the mud. The shooting has been fantastic."
And then there are days when the hunting might be slow, but a front is on the way, bringing with it the prospect of migrating ducks. When new birds arrive, it can be a famine-to-feast situation. One minute, no ducks; the next, swarms of flight-weary birds are landing in your decoys.
Several seasons ago, two friends and I were having a slow morning on Barkley Lake in west Kentucky. We knew a cold front was coming, but by noon, our spirits were sagging. We called it a day, loaded our gear in the boat, and headed back to the ramp. Just before we got there, the wind swung sharply to the north, and the air grew noticeably cooler.
As we were loading the boat onto the trailer, we looked back across the lake and saw a large flock of mallards buzzing our permanent decoy spread. "Think we should go back out?" one of my partners asked.
"Nope, let's head home," I responded, failing to realize what was happening.
That night, another friend who hunted in a nearby blind called me. "I saw you go in," he said. "You missed the most awesome day of duck hunting I've ever seen. Right after you left, flock after flock rolled down the lake, and they were all in a kamikaze mood."
I never made that mistake again. Of course, once a migration has occurred and your hunting area is holding lots of birds, managing hunting pressure can be especially important. But the point is, ducks don't always follow our preconceived notions of when they will fly and when they won't. Sometimes, they fly and work best during midday because of weather conditions, feeding patterns, or the timing of migratory flights. The best advice is to occupy your blind whenever you can—early, late, and in the middle of the day. Some days your persistence will go unrewarded, but other days it may lead to a barnburner.
You have to be there to find out.