Getting on Late Season Ducks
There’s something about the pursuit of ducks in the late season. Big fat mallards, fully plumed widgeons, and late season flocks of various species of ducks, hanging on until the spring warm up and their return to the north. It’s just special.
As the duck season progresses, so does the cycle of the ducks’ breeding seasons, the food sources the ducks are targeting, and the locations the ducks are found. When the late season phase of duck hunting lands in your lap, it’s time to adjust your tactics and find the X.
Duck decoys are at the heart of duck hunting. Used strategically, duck decoys are arguably the duck hunter’s most critical tool, apart from your shotgun and shells. As late season creeps in, drakes and hens begin to pair up for their long trip south, and the spring breeding season ahead.
Consider utilizing a smaller decoy spread during late season hunts to mimic these pairing ducks. Twelve to eighteen decoys is more than enough of a spread this time of year. One theory lends itself to leaning hen-heavy with your late season spread, with hopes of attracting more passing drakes looking for their southbound partner. Group your decoys into smaller family type groups of three or four decoys together on the water with space in between groups.
There’s no doubt about it, spinning wings and mechanical motion duck decoys have changed the duck hunting game. During early season, many hunters run two, three, and sometimes even four or more spinning wing decoys in their spread. These decoys add an attractive flash and motion to your spread that catches the attention of passing ducks. The “spinners” provide a level of confidence that other ducks are landing, and the coast is clear.
However, as late season duck hunting gets underway, it’s worth the time to reconsider your spinning wing decoy strategy. By now, just about every duck flying south from their nesting grounds has seen a spinning wing decoy or two. The element of surprise for young of the year birds is long over, and educated birds are what remains.
Pursuing ducks throughout the hunting season requires hunters to locate birds to hunt. As the season progresses, flocks of migrating ducks look to varying food sources. From the early season floating vegetation, smartweed, and millet to the calorie-rich crop fields of late season, successful hunters follow the birds and their flight path from the roost, to feed, and back again.
Late season ducks require feed high in calories and carbohydrates to make it through winter’s cold fronts and to start their southern migration. Look for agricultural fields such as corn stubble, harvested bean fields, milo stocks, etc. Even if you don’t plan on hunting the crop fields, learning the birds’ flight path from roost to feed can help you identify potholes, ponds, and other bodies of water the birds may use to loaf on during the day.
Hunting ducks during late season can be an emotional roller coaster. Locating huntable birds is one of those ups and downs of the emotional duck hunting joy ride. Picking apart the birds’ habits and habitat can help you locate groups of ducks that will offer you some of your best hunting of the season.
Using a floating gun case and floating blind bags is always a good idea during duck season, but can mean the difference between losing gear and saving it when hunting moving water. Take special care, and pay attention to dropping temperatures both for the safety of you and your hunting dog when you’re out during late season. On those really cold mornings, bring a thermos full of coffee to warm your insides up. Finally, get out there and enjoy those late season days of duck season. If you put in the time and find some ducks, the successes of late season hunts are fantastically rewarding.