By Josh Boyd
As fall marches forward, and winter is poised just over the horizon, a significant number of die-hard waterfowl hunters are beginning to develop an itch that they cannot wait to scratch. Waterfowl openers across a number of the nation’s flyways are little more than a month away, and many duck and goose hunters are starting to stare at the sky with intent in their eyes.
As opening day approaches, a lengthy list of chores presents itself. Each task carries significance toward the cultivation of a memorable season, and those who do not see these tasks through, often find themselves far from the X.
The most substantial of these chores often pertains to logistical matters surrounding land access and travel for the months ahead. Squaring up such details now will prevent headaches and promote enjoyment while in the blind.
The following are several tasks that every waterfowl hunter should be doing now, in order to stage a better waterfowl season in the days to come.
Many hunters naturally assume that they will be granted permission to the same properties this season, as they were the season prior. While one hopes to retain ongoing permission from year to year, assuming this to be the case can be a mistake.
Many circumstances can change in a landowner’s life within the span of 12-months. At times, difficult financial times can force an individual to lease out their land elsewhere, a family member can request permission for the same intent, or an issue with trespassers can lead one to close their property to all access by outside parties.
Not checking in with a landowner from year to year can lead to conflict, or a number of misunderstandings, if any of the above-mentioned situations have arisen. At the very least, even if continued access is granted, making an effort to verify this fact demonstrates a level of respect toward a landowner and their property.
Seek Out Additional Access
As most any waterfowl hunter is all too aware, sometimes even the most promising of duck holes fail to deliver. When this occurs, one is presented with two options; stare at blank skies, or move to an alternative location. However, the latter of these two options is only a possibility if a hunter has put in the necessary legwork to gain additional access.
In many areas of the country, gaining permission to waterfowl hunt is as simple as scanning aerial maps in search of promising river sloughs, perfectly located farm ponds, and secluded lowland marshes. Once a location of value has been identified, a quick yet courteous visit with the property’s owner will often pay dividends. It is also advisable to have several locations of this nature in mind, as one will never gain access to 100% of the properties that they inquire about.
Once permission is granted by a landowner, it is vital to understand any requests or stipulations he or she might have. Verify any gates that are to be closed or remain open, inquire as to where it is that you are allowed to park, and discuss whether or not you are required to call before a hunt.
Plan Ahead for Destination Hunts
For many waterfowl hunters, the ultimate dream is to wade the waters at any number of the nation’s premier duck or goose hunting destinations. From the flooded timbers of Bayou Meto, to the sizable waters of Chesapeake Bay, a significant number of avid waterfowlers strike out for hallowed hunting grounds every year.
However, a hunt of this type does not come without intensive planning. Licenses must be bought, regulations should be understood, and arrangements for such a stay need to be made. Additionally, if one plans to hunt with the assistance of a guide, booking needs to be secured, and deposits should be made.
When speaking of destination hunts, adequate planning often means the difference between a trip to remember, and a frustrating experience that you wish to forget. Additionally, this same planning can assist you in avoiding any unfortunate oversight, which might net you a citation for non-compliance with game laws.
Scout Like There Is No Tomorrow
Once all logistical matters for the season ahead are in order, the most pertinent of concerns are those related to finding birds in ample numbers. The only effective means of facilitating this is through meaningful scouting. The weeks leading up to season is a time for observation, with an emphasis on covering ground, or water, like there is no tomorrow.
When hunting farm ponds, scouting can often take place from a blind, if it is already in place, or with the use of a pair of quality binoculars from a distant hillside. River sloughs can be observed by taking a few morning or afternoon float trips during the weeks ahead.
Additionally, both divers and dabblers can be located on lakes by following their morning and evening flights by boat, or by vehicle.
Once pockets of birds are located, make frequent, yet unintrusive scouting trips to verify their continued use of a particular area. As all waterfowl hunters are well aware, ducks and geese often move about at a moment’s notice, especially on the leading edge of an incoming cold front.
Preparing for Limits
Many will be tempted to spend the coming weeks watching waterfowl related programming on their favorite outdoor network, or thumbing through the latest edition of their duck or goose hunting publication of preference. While this is fine and well, it is also imperative to take the necessary time to square away all matters of pre-season prep work. Doing so is likely to place you in contention to experience your best waterfowl season to date.