By Wade Bourne

Ducks and geese that receive too much hunting pressure can become wise to the ways of waterfowlers. These "educated" birds learn to avoid areas where hunters are likely to be present. They become shy of blinds, decoys, and calling. They hunker down during the day, choosing to feed at night instead.

When hunting pressure is managed properly, however, waterfowl settle in, stay around, and respond better to hunters' tactics. It may not be necessary to limit hunting on high-traffic migration areas that receive regular flights of new birds. But on most managed public lands and private clubs or leases, controlling hunting pressure results in more birds and better hunting opportunities.

Waterfowl managers use a variety of methods to achieve these results. On Grand Pass Conservation Area in Missouri, for example, hunting hours end at 1 p.m. each day. Hunting parties are limited to no more than four hunters. And the number of parties allowed to hunt on any given day is also controlled.

"Typically, at the start of the season we allow 15 hunting parties a day," explains Grand Pass wildlife biologist Robert Henry. "We increase this to as many as 40 parties as the season goes on and all our pools are flooded. We manage with a goal of one hunting party for every 40 acres. We've found that this provides waterfowlers with a quality hunt."

The managers at Grand Pass employ one other control. Hunting parties are not allowed to drive through the area after they turn in their daily hunting tag. "If we didn't impose these restrictions, I'm sure we'd see an adverse effect on our hunting quality," Henry says. "Ducks would quickly change their patterns if we didn't limit disturbance as well as hunting pressure."

Roy Carter, who operates Carter's Big Island Hunting Club near St. Paul, Kansas, employs similar methods to manage hunting pressure on his club's flooded timber and fields. No hunting is allowed on Big Island after noon, and hunting locations are changed from day to day to prevent spots from being overused. Carter also encourages his parties to hunt as efficiently as possible. "Especially in the timber, we try to get the ducks right in front of the hunters before we call the shot," he explains. "This way we can take more birds per flight, which means we'll need fewer flights to get our limits."

In addition, Carter and his fellow waterfowlers focus on "hunting the edges" of places where ducks are concentrated. He illustrates his point with this analogy: "You can have Christmas and unwrap all your presents in one day, and it's over. Or you can unwrap one present a day and extend Christmas throughout the season. If you hunt the edges of your main concentrations instead of going where the ducks are gathered, you can portion out your shooting. We keep the pressure as light as we can, and by doing so we hold ducks and enjoy good shooting from the first day of the season right through to the last."

How to Control Hunting Pressure

Following are five tips from waterfowl managers to help you reduce hunting pressure in the areas where you hunt:

  1. Limit hunting to certain days of the week. Many public management areas allow hunting on some days and keep others as "rest" days. Hunting is typically better following a rest period.
  2. Restrict shooting hours. On many public management areas and private hunting clubs, the shooting ends at a specified hour, usually in the early afternoon. Some clubs also prohibit hunting during the first hour of legal shooting to allow ducks feeding on the area at night to leave at dawn.
  3. Control hunter numbers. The number of hunters allowed to shoot in a given area can be controlled by limiting the size of hunting parties, number of blinds, or total number of hunters.
  4. Limit shell counts. Limiting the number of shells each hunter can carry into the marsh discourages indiscriminate shooting and "skybusting," which scares ducks and geese away due to excessive gunfire.
  5. Restrict human intrusion. When hunting isn't taking place, human activity is prohibited to allow waterfowl to feed and rest undisturbed.