Preseason Scouting Pays Dividends During Opening Weekend

There’s nothing as frustrating as getting “skunked” on opening day. You head to the marsh with excitement at an all-time high, but by sun-up, it’s clear that the ducks are avoiding you like the plague. To make matters worse, there is no shortage of gunfire in the area—clearly, others don’t share your misfortune. So, what gives? You know ducks frequent the area, but where are they, and why are they not coming to you?

I remember an opening weekend a few years back. My dad and I found several hundred mallards resting in a small pothole. Our excitement grew as we made plans for a morning hunt. At daybreak, those same ducks circled and landed in a slough opposite of ours. Instead of a mallard shoot, we were treated to five green wing teal that sat out of shotgun range. That afternoon we drove by again, only this time our slough was filled with mallards. It was a case of hunting the right slough, but at the wrong time.

Regardless of where you hunt, you might find that some pre-hunt planning increases your odds of opening day success. Sometimes it’s not enough to know that ducks are in the area—but knowing when and where to find them could be the difference maker on opening day.

 

Scouting

There is no doubt that scouting drives success, and in 2020, finding a good spot has never been easier. Using a smartphone to access a satellite view of the land makes locating habitat a synch. Before planning an opening day hunt, however, make sure to do some homework and find out if ducks frequent the area. A simple drive is all it takes. Head out early in the morning when ducks are going to feed, or again in the evening as they head back to roost. If you’re seeing ducks, there’s a good chance the area will yield some action opening day.

The next step is identifying the type of habitat you have. Ducks use water for three reasons—to feed, to rest and to sleep. Knowing the type of habitat that you plan on hunting, and plotting your hunt accordingly, will greatly increase your odds for success.

 

Feed

Food availability can have a profound impact on habitat. If a body of water yields edible vegetation, it will likely attract ducks. Wild rice is a favored plant. In addition, look for wild celery, milfoil, pondweed and freshwater shrimp. Identifying these aquatic plants and food items is a good sign that ducks are coming to feed. Feeding areas are best hunted early in the morning. Expect to see action moments after legal shooting hours begin.

 

Loafing

Hunting a loafing slough can be a great experience. Ducks loaf after feeding, usually from late morning through mid-afternoon. Loafing birds are apt to sleep, pick at duck louse, and occasionally tip their heads under water in search of a snack. Knowing where and when they loaf will likely take some preseason scouting. Because ducks are often preoccupied while on loaf, these sloughs are a great target for a mid-afternoon jump shoot.

 

Roosting

A roost—where ducks go for evening slumber—is typically a marshy body of water and nearly impenetrable from shore. They can be deep, mucky and possess cattail growth that can obscures open water. Hunting a roost offers one of the most magnificent waterfowl displays a hunter will witness, yet it comes with a price. Ducks like safety when they sleep, and you firing a shotgun in the middle of their bedroom is a sure way to chase birds from an area.

If you choose to hunt a roost, your best bet is to set up on an incline at least 50 yards from the water and pass shoot birds as they leave to feed. Ducks leaving a roost typically do so in the same spots each morning. Watch closely around the edge of the marsh to see where their fly-routes are and set up nearby. To ensure birds stick around, allow them to return to the roost unharmed in the evening. Doing so allows more hunting opportunities for you and others as the season progresses.

There’s no doubt that opening weekend can be the most rewarding time of year to hunt ducks, yet there’s always the chance a hunting trip may end empty-handed. As any seasoned hunter would say, preparation is vital when it comes to success, and with opening day ducks, knowing where to find them, and when to find them could be the key difference between success or getting “skunked.”

 

 

 

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