When you’re not field hunting for ducks and geese, chances are you’re going to have to hit some public land to chase waterfowl. As we all know from experience, hunting on public land and water has its challenges as well as its rewards.
Here are some tips to finding repeated success when hunting public land.
Scout, scout, and scout some more
Any waterfowler that has been at it for any length of time knows that you need to be where the birds want to be. This means scouting and you’re going to do this before the season, during the season and after the season closes. For most of us, it’s one of the enjoyable parts of hunting.
There are lots of tools available for scouting. Trimble GPS TOPO Maps latest software for use with your smartphone is a very cool tool for having highly-detailed maps at your disposal. I have learned in my experience that having access to a good map is vital to scouting success. A topographic map shows those elevation changes that affect the wind and, therefore, the flyways.
Part of scouting is experience too. Knowing historically where birds have flown is a great piece of knowledge to have, especially if you’re hunting a public-land blind. Many of the public-land duck blinds across the country are on a first-come, first-served basis. Get there early and get the spot you want. Don’t be afraid to try something new, too. You may find that new location that will hunt well for you.
Being flexible could very well be the most important thing about hunting public land. You’re not going to have total control over what others do, and you have to keep in mind that public land is open to everyone.
Several years ago, I went out for the duck opener with a buddy of mine. We were headed to a lake that we knew to be excellent for ducks and with many great spots; it was just going to be an epic opening day. On the way there, however, life took a little turn when a deer decided to assault the truck’s bumper, fender, and a few other expensive parts. Fixing the truck and making things road-worthy again took valuable time off the clock. When we arrived at our “top-secret” lake, there was a heck of a traffic jam on the boat launch. Coupled with thicker-than-whale-snot fog, and our day was going to be shot, right?
Well, no, actually. Yeah, all the top spots were taken, so we pulled into a marshy area just a few hundred yards off the launch that opened up further in. We had scouted this lake a ton and hunted it many times, so we knew of the open marsh area. We hadn’t hunted it before, but we knew it was there. It wasn’t easy getting back in there, but with at least 20 other boats out hunting the waterway, we had no other choice. It turned out being flexible was a good move. Not only did we have ducks work our decoys and give us good shooting, but also as ducks sped away from other hunters, they often came right to our new honey-hole. A bad day turned into a day of taking a full limit of puddle ducks.
Have a backup plan. Be open to trying a new spot and scout new spots just in case you have to make a quick, on-the-fly change in plans. Be open to hunting with others, if that situation arises.
Off the beaten path
What lengths would you go to when it comes to finding a new place to hunt? For most of us, it isn’t a matter of would you go but when.
A few years ago, we found a lake that was holding great numbers of divers. The problem was, we weren’t the only ones who knew this. In fact, at least three other hunters in the area knew of the lake and the diver bounty it held. One of the other hunters lived much closer to the lake and we began a friendly competition of who could get on the lake and to the only real hunting spot earlier. We’d often hunt together or just take our licks and keep on rolling, but I kept looking for other options.
Those options came in the form of a string of smaller ponds tucked back deep in the state-forest land behind the main lake. Getting back into them wasn’t an easy prospect. In fact, it would easily take an extra hour or more—but what we found was a discrete hunting opportunity to get at some of those same birds. It didn’t take long for the other hunter to figure out where we were going, so I decided to share the find with him and now we alternate.
Sometimes the best option when hunting public land is to look for that out-of-the-way location and have a go at it. It might take extra work and you might not have the bounty of shooting that you might have wanted, but I guarantee a rewarding hunt.
Do the unexpected
If you hunt public land and aren’t the only one out hunting, you need to stand out from the others—but in a good way. Watch what the other hunters do. Good binoculars are vital. Know what they are setting up and have a different look to your spread. Have a few different decoys in your spread than they do. If they run a motorized decoy, then maybe you shouldn’t, and vice versa. Have something new to add to your spread. The other day, I added a few snow geese to my floaters, just to have something different and it worked. Vary your calling techniques too.
One thing hunters in my home state have noticed is that the waterfowl seasons overlap the firearm deer seasons. For most, this means that time is wasted because they won’t hunt ducks when they can hunt deer. I think it’s a great time to go hunting for ducks, myself. In fact, I’m yet to see another duck hunter while I’ve been out during deer season. Now, I’m not saying you should go running out into an area that has heavy deer hunter traffic and set up your decoys. Play it safe. Coming back home after a hunt is way more important.
If you do things other won’t expect, scout new locations, be flexible in your set up and locations and go places other won’t, you’re bound to have an amazing hunt and a great story to tell. Isn’t that worth it?
Image courtesy Derrek Sigler/Hard Core Decoys