How To

Waterfowl Scouting: Being Where the Birds Want to Be

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A good trail camera can tell you where and when the birds want to be in the field or pond you’re hunting.

A good trail camera can tell you where and when the birds want to be in the field or pond you’re hunting.

We all know that to be successful waterfowlers, we need to be where the birds want to be. Good advice but sometimes easier said than done. It’s Not Easy! Scouting locations early in the season and before is not only a smart move, but also a good way to keep you on your game year round.

Smile, you’re on candid camera

Game cameras are changing the way we hunt. You heard me. I use game cameras for scouting waterfowl and not just geese in fields. It is a great way to scout when you’re not there.

I have a few honey hole spots that when there are birds around, there are birds around. One is a river that when ducks and geese are on the move, it fills in fast. A lot of it has to do with proximity to a dam system so the water is slower. There is also an ample supply of food around. The hard part for me as a hunter is that there is no place to hunt but the river. So when I start seeing a few birds in the area, I put up a camera and check it often to see if the birds are using the river. The trick with using a game camera for birds is trying to get it pointed in the right spot. Take time and use the viewer, if your camera has one. I love the Bushnell Trailcam cameras as they are tough, take great pictures and are sensitive enough to go off when I need them too.

I made a portable “fence post” for placing the camera where I think birds might drop in. Here I set it near a partially cut corn field.

I made a portable “fence post” for placing the camera where I think birds might drop in. Here I set it near a partially cut corn field.

For field use, I made up a portable fence post that only cost a few bucks to make from a treated landscape timber and a few clumps of dead grass and/or cornstalks. The trick is to try to hide the camera in the wide open. The last thing I want to do is have someone steal my $250 camera. I also don’t want to spook birds, so brushing up the post is a must.

By setting the camera’s date and time function, you can track the time of day the birds are coming in, which direction they came from, the temperature, and more. It also helps for determining if other animals are using the field. I had several days when birds were using a field and then one day, no birds, but a large coyote. A couple of days later and the birds showed back up on camera. Not only did I find out that it was a good spot for goose hunting, my wife got a nice coyote pelt.

When placing the camera, think like a bird. Look for good spots that will draw birds. For water, try little nooks and coves that birds will congregate in. The trick with using a camera is getting them close enough to trip the sensor. You can’t just put one out on a pond and hope the birds find it, although that is basically what you’re doing. Try to find a birdy looking spot. As with anything, it isn’t perfect. I once had a camera out on a pond that just screamed to me that it would be chock full of ducks, but after two weeks, I had a few pictures of a muskrat, some leaves blowing in the wind and a few other pictures of basically nothing. I tried another pond two miles away and found birds on camera within a few days.

A camera doesn’t make up for in-person scouting, but it is a great way to get an extra set of eyes out there, so to speak. You can’t be everywhere at once. Many of the newer cameras have a field scan option that basically takes time-lapse pictures. This can really pay off if you, for one, have time to scour through a lot of pictures, and two, if you aren’t sure where birds will come from. The higher resolution cameras will allow you to zoom in enough to see what’s going one too.

Other resources

Other great sources of information for scouting can be found through local wildlife agencies as well as Ducks Unlimited (DU) and Delta Waterfowl. Get in touch with your local wildlife biologists and ask them for advice. Spring is a great time of year to do this, as they are not inundated with requests from other hunters. Another great source are police officers. I got in with a few guys years ago who were all in law enforcement. They are great sources of information. Think about it, they spend a lot of time driving around on patrol. The guys I know are all into waterfowl hunting and are eager to report bird movements. A couple of these guys are now trusted hunting and fishing buddies too. On top of being great guys, they tell the best stories while sitting in the blind. Who wouldn’t want to hear about the drunk who got tazered?

Volunteering with DU or Delta is a good way to get in touch with these biologists as well as helping habitat projects. Remember, the more birds that get produced in the summer, the more birds you have to hunt in the fall. Help out with a banding operation. Put up hen houses or wood duck houses. Get involved. Not only will you meet like-minded people and get to know a few new hunting buddies, you’ll also be taking an active roll in protecting our future waterfowling.

Yes sir, waterfowl hunting has gone high-tech and much of that is in scouting for birds. From phones to computers, GPS to cameras, there is a ton of technology out there that makes us better hunters. When it comes down to the actual hunt, you still have to set your own Hard Core decoys, blow your own calls, and shoot your shotgun. Of course, technology has affected those areas too, but the core of hunting is still as basic as ever.

Blending the latest gizmos with the old school fun of hunting just makes us better at it. Getting on the birds and having a good hunt not only makes it easier to drag out of bed at oh-dark-thirty, coffee in hand, but if you’re introducing new hunters, say your spouse or child, having a good hunt will help them enjoy those first experiences that much more. When my wife and I first started dating, I took her goose hunting and today she is my favorite hunting buddy. We have started taking our son with us and he is really getting into it now too. Whatever I can do to make those experiences better for them, I’ll do it. I’m betting you would too. It’s Not Easy!

Images by Derrek Sigler

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