By Mark Fike
Many states in the U.S. have a brief waterfowl season that some call the “early season.” Typically, these seasons start in October and can run from a few days to a few weeks. The main season in the United States is generally in November and December with some areas extending into January.
In years past, I have found myself ignoring the short early season because I am busy archery deer hunting or doing chores around the house before the big seasons arrive. It was a mistake. After trying the early season, I found I was missing out for a number of reasons.
First, like many outdoor activities, it takes a trip or two to get into the groove or swing of things. You know how it goes, the first trip out in the boat you forget to put the plug in or the first time you go hunting you realize you forgot something or are running late trying not to forget something!
Going out a time or two early in the season sets a pattern; you relearn how to get the duck boat off the trailer smoothly (with the plug in it!) and you remember where all your gear gets stowed and you find your calls and organize your pockets in your waterfowl jacket too.
Second, you fine-tune your four legger. You can run drills all day long in the field and at home, but the first time in the boat or blind and your excitement cannot be hidden from your retriever. They feel it and they are excited. They need to get back in the swing of things too and bad habits get noted and worked on before the main season arrives.
Third, you find out what is not working well. Your boat engine may be a bit off or you may realize that your duck blind needs a repair that you really should have checked before the season arrived. You may even find that the place you intended to hunt is dried up! That happened to me a few years ago. I hunted a nice swamp for woodies a few years and hiked in opening morning as I normally do and found tall weeds and no water! Better to find that out before I invited my friends!
Last, the hunting can be really great. The ducks have not been pressured yet and often the shooting is fast and furious the opening week. Most of the time I hunt wood ducks in swamps but we see mallards, black ducks and other ducks too.
Tips for the early season
Practice shooting before you go so you don’t embarrass yourself or get nasty looks from the retriever.
Pattern your gun before you go with the loads you plan on using. It is expensive but look at it as an investment for your reputation and for the sake of not wounding ducks.
You don’t have to call much if your decoys are in plain sight, so lay off the call until the ducks are passing.
Dress appropriately. The weather can be warm and a Thermacell may be a necessary piece of gear! Don’t discount ticks either.
Take plenty of water, particularly if it is warm out.