I've sought them by jump shooting in ponds, swamps, and marshes, walked streams for wood ducks done field hunting, big lake shooting from large boats, even hunted teal and woodies in drainage ditches. But my favorite method of filling a limit is by hunting them in a blind with a cluster of decoys bobbing out there.
I still remember a memorable trip made years ago to the fabled mecca of waterfowl on Chesapeake Bay, a sport followed by such greats as Ernest Hemingway, Ted Trueblood, and (I'm told) even Teddy Roosevelt. I can almost close my eyes and see again a morning when grey clouds scudded across the sky, occasional flurries of sleet stung our eyes, and an eager black lab sat close beside watching the sky for birds. Then a cluster of eight Giant Canadas winged past, swung almost on a string when a partner tuned up his goose call, cupped their wings to drop into the dekes, then the smell of cordite and splashes followed by the lab on order swimming to retrieve his giant charges. A great day that brought us limits of fat geese.
I learned a few things as the seasons marched by, and one was that a blind on a small pond just isn't worth it. I built one once on a one acre pond of chicken wire, posts, and a covering of cattails. The only ducks that appeared over several days was two beautiful little male buffleheads that I didn't have the heart to shoot. Just too many little ponds around to make them choose mine. But on a much larger lake of nearly four acres I had occasional flocks arrive, mostly puddle ducks like mallards, but once or twice a few divers, too.
For years two friends and I had a blind on a lake of several hundred acres, and that was a real learning experience. We quickly learned that "good weather is bad weather", for example. On sunny, bluebird days hunting there was a waste of time, and we spent our spare hours jump shooting on one pond after another. But on stormy days when there was wind and sometimes snow flurries, the ducks moved well seeking refuge and pitched into our blocks with regularity.
Decoys were always a problem and it didn't take long to discover that the more you had, the better. We made a fair number from a Styrofoam kit, painting them in idle moments, and adding string and little anchors. I bought a dozen mallards at a garage sale, and we pooled our resources to buy a dozen magnum blocks, over-sized mallard drakes and hens that seemed to work better on distant birds than those of normal size. We practiced diligently on duck and goose calls using tapes purchased from sporting goods shops to get the various major sounds correct, and one partner grew so expert that more than once he called a flock back after we'd taken several shots.
But decoy placement was the key to success. At first we just tossed out the blocks in a haphazard manner, and hoped. But they pulled in only a few dumb ones. Then we learned that you needed an open space within shooting range so the flocks would have a place to land. And finally, we learned to spot flocks on the wing by species, which took time, since limits could consist of multiple types. Shoot too many ducks that had tiny limits and local wildlife officers would be most interested. It's a great sport, and I think many local outdoorsmen will find that blind hunting can become addicting. Give it a try this fall.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• There's more talk on the docks these days about AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) aboard recreation boats The system helps recreational boaters navigate crowded waterways and identifies potential dangers. BoatUS is offering an easy and effective way to learn more about this collision avoidance technology with a new online course called “AIS Electronics for Boaters — See and Be Seen on the Water,” which was developed in partnership with the United States Power Squadrons. For more information, go to BoatUS.org/AIS.
• The fall migration is well underway, and bird watchers can see thousands of birds winging their way south. Some hardier species like bald eagles, Cooper's hawks, and northern cardinals will stick around through the winter, while others like ospreys and ruby-throated hummingbirds will be winging south. Lake Erie particularly, should attract some unusual species like scoters, rare gulls, and Harlequin ducks. Learn more at lakeeriebirding.ohiodnr.gov.
• Ducks Unlimited is offering high school seniors who are DU members an opportunity to advance their education. Starting in 2018, DU will annually award 61 one-time scholarships to eligible applications at the following levels: 50 varsity scholarships at $500 each, 10 conservation scholarships at $1,000 each and one national scholarship at $10,000. For more information,visit www.ducks,org/scholarship
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.