As I sat on the edge of a levee, staring out into the dark silhouettes of trees, I couldn’t help but think “You betcha…we’re not in North Dakota anymore.”
Growing up in Minnesota, duck hunting consisted of marshes, bays of lakes, and dry field hunts. I was so eaten up with shooting ducks and geese, North Dakota seemed like a fantastic place to spend my college years. To say it was a good run would be an understatement. World class waterfowling with a very light sprinkling of college courses was a fantastic recipe for any young hunter. It was in the prairie pothole region where my craft was honed. Big honkers and mallards didn’t stand a chance.
Some years after graduating, I received a job offer from Primos Hunting, about as far south as you can get, in good ol’ Mississippi. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and that’s what landed me on the edge of a flooded impoundment waiting for the morning flight. We were on a 10,000-acre property littered with duck holes, manicured for nothing more than attracting and holding a pile of green tops. Outside of the scenery of Persimmon and Tupelo Gum trees, the ducks behaved how I had always believed they would, feet down in your face. But boy was I in for a rude awakening in the coming years. I would learn a whole lot more about waterfowling by getting to experience chasing ducks south of the Mason-Dixon. Is there a difference between hunting ducks between two destinations spanning 1,000 miles? You’re fixin’ to find out.
In the northern states, ducks are coming from Canada, and for the most part, haven’t seen any human pressure. This allows for good shoots with very sloppy execution, and weather be damned. By the time a mallard has flown from North Dakota to Mississippi, roughly 1,000 nautical miles away, passing through Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas—they’ve had the potential to be shot at by nearly 300,000 camo clad duck hunters. In order to survive that flight, they have learned a thing or two, making them some of the wariest ducks I’ve ever pursued.
The Weather Factor
There’s no doubt a big cold front up north would push a pile of birds down from Canada, making for some banger shoots, but otherwise there were pretty much always local ducks. From the day the season opened in late September, there were plenty of puddlers to chase. At some point in the middle of October, you’d inevitably get a nice snowstorm pushing new birds down, and this kept happening all the way until freeze up, normally sometime at the end of November.
It really didn’t matter if it was cloudy, sunny, raining or snowing. If you were in the right spot, and were hidden, the birds did their thing right in the decoys. The wind helped, but too much of it made life more difficult, as did a lack of it. Everyone talked about good duck weather being nasty, windy, and snowy, but to be honest I didn’t care as long as there was enough wind to set them up into our face. Now welcome back to the south.
“Looks like we’re deer hunting today,” said Primos Hunting’s Brad Farris as the crew sat in the camphouse getting ready for a morning duck hunt. After watching no less than 800 mallards packed into a duck hole less than an acre in size, I was disappointed to say the least. Pressing the issue, I asked why. “There’s no wind and it’s going to be cloudy. We might shoot a few but all we’ll do is blow them out of that hole and educate them,” was Farris’ response. My head was spinning. I didn’t want to sound stupid, but wouldn’t there just be more ducks coming down? How hard could it be to shoot a few limits of ducks out of what would be a slam dunk?
Hell-bent on shooting some ducks, I walked over the levee with a few dozen decoys and a layout blind to see if I could pick a few off from a safe distance off the duck hole. After meticulously brushing in the blind, it had disappeared into the knee-high grass. There was no wind rippling the water as the first flock of gadwall sucked in, I dropped two right into the decoys. “These southern boys don’t have anything on me,” I thought to myself as a pre-dawn mallard followed the same script backpedaling right into the blocks. Three down, only a few more to go. This is a piece of cake! Expecting the mallards to get off the roost as the sun peeked over the horizon, I patiently awaited an opportunity to finish off my limit. They came alright. Flock after flock came within 100 yards, and then proceeded to bail off, landing in another hole. I quickly got out of my blind to check the hide that was all but invisible. After an hour of waiting in vain, I grabbed my duck hunting gear, and walked back to the camp, leaving my pride at the hole. It was the first eye opening experience of my southern waterfowl career.
Duck Decoy Spreads and Equipment
This section should essentially be labeled motion decoys! The creation of the spinning wing decoy fundamentally changed the waterfowl game for decades. For many years in the north, we’d joke that you’d have a better chance of shooting a limit of ducks over one spinning wing decoy than a whole spread of regular ones. Partially joking, but kind of true. In the five years I hunted across Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, there was only one distinct memory of using a spinner. Again, going back to pressure, these ducks have been there and done that. For how well they work up in the north country, it’s the polar opposite down south. However, the one time I saw it work was pretty genius. I was on an Arkansas timber hunt, and there was a spinner hanging 40 feet in an old oak tree. Just a quick pulse of the wings would catch the attention of 75 percent of the birds passing over the treetops. Just enough to set us apart from the hundreds of other groups in the area.
Outside of a spinner, the south is where I truly learned the importance of motion. Going back to weather, if there’s no wind, you’re going to need some motion, or you won’t shoot birds. It wasn’t uncommon to have a jerk string, a jerk spreader, two to three feeding agitator decoys, and a dabbler or two in the spread. On the calmest of days, only running a half dozen motion decoys with jerk strings was hands down the best way to fool ducks.
I wish I had learned the nuances of motion decoys while I was up north because upon returning, it significantly changed how many ducks would finish without hesitation, versus picking up their wings at 30 yards, offering a further shot. 30 yards works, but who doesn’t like a 10-yard touchdown!
Duck Clubs and Public Land Duck Hunting
If you look at a map of the upper-Midwest, public land polka dots much of the landscape. Minnesota alone boasts over 14,000 lakes over 10 acres, most of which are publicly accessible for hunting. Then add in the WMA’s, Walk-in Access areas, and Waterfowl Production Areas, a freelance waterfowler has ample opportunities to chase birds where they are. The key part of the sentence is “chase birds where they are.” Up north, scouting was absolutely crucial because you had to find the spot where the birds actually are present. If the birds were on private land, the odds of getting permission were in your favor. As long as you weren’t talking about deer, most farmers would care less. Before anybody gets too worked up, the same thing happens to an extent in the south, but give me a second to elaborate.
Outside of a few large notable areas in each state, the south is largely dominated by private land. If there’s a good piece of property, I’d stake my life that there’s probably somebody hunting on it. The south is where I had my first experience with clubs, or a group of people who have pooled their money to secure a tract of private land. There are clubs that range from small acreage leases to 15,000 square foot lodges on thousands of acres.
What was interesting about a club or a lease is that people would hunt the same place over and over, even if there were no ducks. In the north, you’d just go find another spot with birds. The hope was to catch a push of ducks into the area, and time it right, but for much of the season you’d be staring at relatively empty skies.
Arkansas is a bit of a different animal as there’s significantly more public access between the White and Cache Rivers, as well as the famous Bayou Meto. I would say the approach to freelance hunting there is similar to up north but on steroids due to the fact it’s one of the most iconic duck hunting destinations in the world.
Since the advent of the popular A&E series Duck Dynasty circa 2012, waterfowling has boomed in popularity, or at least it felt like the case. After talking to friends in Mississippi and Arkansas, this was especially true. That meant for teens, public land was a fantastic option!
My experiences hunting southern public land was quite a stark contrast to the north. Showing up at 3:30 a.m. on a giant piece of federal land, I was greeted by close to 50 other hunters waiting to race to their holes on ATV’s, boats, or bikes. As shooting time rolled around, no duck was safe. It seemed like a duck couldn’t fly 200 yards without being pestered by a pleading duck call ringing over a decoy spread. We scratched out a few wood ducks, which for the most part are second class citizens in the south. The best public hunts I had were the result of logistical nightmares, trying to find areas way off the beaten path. One such hunt required a two-mile boat ride through a stump field, and a half inch of skim ice. Not another soul braved the inclement weather to navigate through enough stumps to rip off an armada of lower units.
Hunting up north is significantly different. I remember waiting at a boat landing to a 3,000-acre marsh, cursing under my breath at the three other hunters who showed up on opening day. A bit different than a Bayou Meto boat race!
Just like the boat races, the level of competition when it comes to hailing a duck from the sky, with a chunk of wood and plastic is unprecedented! The art of calling ducks varies dramatically when you head to southern reaches of the migration. I grew up calling ducks more out of tradition as it’s just what you did. Did it help? Sometimes, yeah, but really it was just a good way to occupy time, thinking you were aiding in getting a bird within gun range.
After sharing a hole with world class callers, such as Jim Ronquest, I learned why the duck call is so important. There is a true art, and one that has been perfected in the flooded rice and timber of the south. The level of nuance to coaxing a mallard into range was way more deep than I had ever experienced in the corn fields of the north. Sitting in the large green tree reservoirs, a good caller will easily make the difference between a full stringer and an empty one.
The contrast in regional differences might be why waterfowling holds such an allure. The potential to hunt the exact same duck in the wheat fields of the Dakotas and four months later, be kicking water leaned up against an ancient oak tree in the green timber is pretty special. It’s what keeps me coming back.
I’ll give a nod to my southern friends, as they sure know how to kill them! Because if this Yankee didn’t have some good hunting buddies who showed me the ropes, I would have saved more ducks than Ducks Unlimited.
Hard and Fast Duck Hunting Truths
- If there’s no wind, you’re going to have a tough time.
- If it’s cloudy, that means there’s no contrast on the landscape, making you stand out like a sore thumb in all but the best situations.
- If you haven’t had much for cold weather, there simply won’t be many, if any, ducks.
- If you want to be successful in the south, be choosy about when you use spinners.
- Realism is key! If you watch ducks from overhead, they are constantly moving. Now look at your decoy spread. It’s a wonder we fool any ducks!
- Iron sharpens iron! Competition in the south has created some of the best waterfowlers in the country. If you’re not good, then you’re not shooting ducks!
- If you are a freelance hunter in the south, it requires a tremendous amount of dedication. There are few free lunches!
Is 12-gauge or 20 gauge better for duck hunting? ›
What gauge shotgun do you prefer while duck hunting? The vast majority of those who responded to the survey preferred using a 12 gauge rather than a 20 gauge. In pattern density and shot stringing, the 12 gauge offers a slight advantage over the 20 gauge, especially with larger steel pellet sizes.What is the best dog for duck hunting? ›
- Labrador Retriever. Without a doubt, the number one duck hunting dog you can find is Labrador Retrievers. ...
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a known duck dog that is powerfully bred and built for the hunt. ...
- German Shorthaired Pointer. ...
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
Use Scented Training Dummies
You need your dog to understand the scent and feel of waterfowl, and any toy that emulates this stimulation will help. Train your dog to fetch and retrieve with a scented training dummy so they come to associate the activity with these senses.
Duck Hunt includes a more difficult mode, where the dog will jump to get the ducks, getting in the way of the players. If players shoot the dog, his face will be damaged, while also wearing a cast and using crutches. He will then say "Ouch! Shoot the ducks, not me!".What size shot for 12 gauge duck? ›
A 12-gauge, 3-inch shell with a 1-3/8-oz. load of No. 4 Kent Bismuth contains 215 pellets that leave the barrel at 1,450 feet-per-second (fps).What size 12 gauge shot is best for duck? ›
Ducks like widgeon, gadwall and wood ducks are a tad tougher to bring down than teal, and for this reason lean a good choice would be 12-gauge 3 ½-inch Black Cloud No. 4.Are male or female dogs better for duck hunting? ›
There is no credible evidence that male dogs are better hunters than females, or that females are easier to train than males. Both male and female dogs are capable of becoming coveted hunting dogs.What is the hardest duck to hunt? ›
Divers, sea ducks, late-season mallards, and giant Canada geese are some of the toughest critters we hunt in North America. Much of the conversation around effectively killing these birds revolves around shotshell selection.What age should you start training a duck dog? ›
The answer is when your duck dog is in the 4-6 month old range, you can begin his formal training. Hopefully you have watched a few videos, or read some books on training. If you have, then you probably are aware of how important it is that your pup be properly socialized. A properly socialized pup is a confident pup.Do dogs get cold duck hunting? ›
Both overly high and overly low body temperatures are dangers to be aware of when hunting with your dog. Hypothermia is a condition seen too often with waterfowl hunting, although it can happen during any activity involving wind, water and temperatures that are low.
How do you tire out a hunting dog? ›
Swimming, whether in an indoor or outdoor pool or a lake or pond, is perhaps even more effective than running for the time spent in tiring out a dog. Agility and nose work also provide wonderful physical and mental stimulation for a dog.Can you ruin a hunting dog? ›
Prolonged panting, seeking out shade, digging shallow holes to lie in, all are signs you should quit hunting and cool him down. The longer you've trained in warm weather, the longer he'll hunt in it, but there is a limit. If your dog doesn't die, heat stroke can damage him permanently.Is the Duck Hunt dog evil? ›
The only time the evil dog is nice to the player, is in the beginning of the game, Didn't shoot The Dog once or after the Nuke, Fiesta, Dog endings. However in all other instances of the game, he is aggressive and dangerous if they shot him once.How close to shoot a duck? ›
Pay attention to a duck's size at 20, 30, and 40 yards. The majority of all birds taken are within a 40-yard range. Learning how a duck appears at these three distances will help you successfully harvest game more efficiently and minimize the wounding of birds out of range.What choke is best for duck hunting? ›
For ducks and geese that are close, improved cylinder or even skeet constriction choke work well. If the birds are farther out, a modified choke tube is better.Is BB too big for ducks? ›
Common shot sizes used for waterfowl (from smallest to largest) are No. 4, 3, 2, 1, BB, BBB and T shot. Naturally, smaller shot sizes are best suited for ducks, while the larger shot is better for geese and swans.Is 2 or 3 shot better for duck hunting? ›
Size 2 shot is a versatile load for situations in which you might encounter geese as well as ducks; otherwise 3 shot is a good all-purpose duck pellet. At ranges inside 40 yards, BB, 1, or 2 shot are good for geese; 2 or 3 shot works well on ducks.What is the fastest waterfowl load? ›
At 1,700 feet-per-second, the HyperSonic is the fastest shotgun shell on the market. It uses a special accelerator wad to maintain velocity and claims to reduce the lead on a duck by eight inches at 40 yards.Are 2 3 4 or 3 inch shells better for ducks? ›
For ducks and most other geese; shoot at reasonable range and 2 3/4 are just fine.Is 3 or 4 shot better for duck hunting? ›
Size #4 shot is the best load for shooting ducks up to 35 yards away. Of all the shot sizes that have enough power to be effective at this range, 4's have the highest pellet density within a 30” circle.
How many females should a male duck have? ›
Duck male-to-female ratios
In flocks, the general recommendation is one drake for every 4-6 ducks. During breeding season, that may be reduced (for the sake of getting a better fertility percentage) to a pair: 1 drake with 1 duck, or a trio: 1 drake with 2 ducks, or a pen: 1 drake for 3-5 ducks.
Males can be more dominant, territorial, and easily distracted than female dogs. On the other hand, males can also be more playful, active, and independent. Dominance and territorial behaviour can also be seen in unspayed females when they are in heat.Do chocolate Labs make good duck dogs? ›
In addition to being proven waterfowl and upland game hunters, they make great family dogs. At the heart of the matter is the Lab's friendly disposition and loving demeanor. Those traits are highly valued.
Ruddy Ducks are very aggressive toward each other and toward other species, especially during the breeding season. They are even known to chase rabbits feeding on the shore. Though Ruddy Ducks are native to the Americas, one population became established in England after captive ducks escaped in 1952.What is the rarest waterfowl duck? ›
A group of Madagascar pochards, the world's rarest duck once feared lost, has been released into the wild as part of a pioneering conservation project to save this critically endangered bird from extinction.What state has the most duck hunting? ›
California: Best State for Hunting Pintails
For hunters, who harvest over a million ducks a year at a success rate of over 20 ducks per hunter, California is for dreamin' big about the elusive pintails.
Dogs must learn to control their impulses to chase game birds by pointing without engaging and by letting other dogs take the lead when instructed. The rate at which dogs complete this stage varies. On average this is a 6-8 week program that we recommend be completed 100% and not broken into multiple visits.Is a male or female lab better for hunting? ›
Agile & Athletic: Because of their lighter build, many of our female Labs are not muscular and bulky, but they are athletic, lean and excellent runners. They can also be better in agility and stronger in stamina, making them a great choice for a hunting dog in the upland field.Does fog mess up duck hunting? ›
"Ducks can see better in fog than most people think they can," he says. "They can see decoys from overhead, and they'll just pop into your spread if they don't see or hear something that spooks them." Van Cleave calls sparingly in fog.Do ducks prefer hot or cold weather? ›
Ducks are extremely cold-hardy due to a nice thick layer of body fat and soft down under their waterproof feathers. They actually need very little in order to be comfortable in cold weather, but there are a few simple things you can do to keep your ducks happier and healthier through the winter months.
Is bad weather good for duck hunting? ›
Weather conditions have an enormous influence on duck hunting success. To make the most of their days afield, waterfowlers must understand weather patterns and how they affect bird behavior. Foul weather, for instance, is usually considered a duck hunter's greatest blessing.What is the best exercise for hunting dogs? ›
Run, run, run
One of the best physical exercises you can use to keep your hunting dog in shape during the off-season is running. Take your pup for daily runs.
Your Dog Is Hunting
If your dog tries to chase another animal, quickly distract it with a toy or something else that will demand its attention. Keep your dog on a secure leash when you're away from home, and supervise your dog when they're outside in your yard.
Toys that can be stuffed like the KONG Goodie Ribbon make getting the nibbles out a mentally challenging puzzle for dogs. This brain stimulation keeps them eager to work to get the food out and tires them out, often warding out unwanted behaviors and boredom.How do ducks like to be petted? ›
Where do ducks prefer to be petted? Ducks usually find pleasure when petted under the lower mandible. They may stand and close their eyes while you rub him. They also enjoy being petted gently around their mouth and the “V” along the top of their mouth.Why won't my duck stand? ›
By far the most common cause of lameness in ducks is niacin deficiency, which occurs when ducklings are fed rations intended for chickens. Chicks have the ability to convert the amino acid tryptophan in their starter ration into niacin. Ducks lack that ability.Can you cuddle your hunting dog? ›
Affection on your terms
Please understand, I am not saying you can never hold and cuddle your puppy. You most certainly can and should. But, do it on your terms, not theirs. Don't pick them up because they are jumping on you.
We have not found that spaying or neutering bird dogs affects their hunting ability or potential. A good pedigree and proper training are the true factors when it comes to performance.Should hunting dogs be kept inside? ›
So, does living indoors hamper the hunting instincts and abilities of a canine? In short: no. However, they do need some time out of doors (both during training and during down time) to acclimate to temperatures (in both extremes: heat and cold).Why is Duck Hunt impossible to beat? ›
The ducks move at an extremely fast speed, making it almost impossible to hit them.
Does Duck Hunt ever end? ›
The thing about Duck Hunt is that it doesn't have an official ending, not like traditional games of today that have sweeping cinematic masterpiece conclusions. Instead it has what is called a kill screen; once you play through 99 levels, a screen bearing the title of "Round 0" appears.What is Duck Hunt dogs name? ›
The Dog (sometimes called the Laughing Dog) in Duck Hunt for the Nintendo Entertainment System is an infamous character. In Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U, he becomes a part of Duck Hunt.Where do you aim when shooting ducks? ›
Aim slightly below the bird, raise the gun up into its flight path, and pull the trigger when the gun barrel blots out the bird. Or, if the duck is descending to land, aim at its feet and shoot. By the time the shot charge gets on target, the duck will have dropped into the middle of the pattern.What is the safest position for duck hunting? ›
When duck hunting, the back-to-back position is the safest, with the zone-of-fire confined to a 180-degree area in front of each hunter.Do you lead duck when shooting? ›
A shooter needs to lead a duck by . 24-5.16 feet to make a clean shot. The two distinct variables that determine how far each duck should be led by are: How far away the duck is, and how fast the duck is flying.Should I use a 20 gauge for duck hunting? ›
The 20-gauge makes a great duck gun
For ducks over decoys — even big ducks such as mallards — a 20 filled with one-ounce loads of steel #2s or #3s, or better yet, one of the non-steel/non-toxics such as Hevi-Shot, will work fine.
A 20 gauge has enough power to shoot pellets with the required force (3-5 foot-pounds) to consistently harvest ducks and geese up to 40 yards away.What size shotgun is best for ducks? ›
#3's and 4's are the best shot sizes for ducks. They meet the minimum 3 foot-pounds of knockdown power, and the most pellets present within a 30” circle when reaching the distance of the target.What is best shotgun for duck hunting? ›
- Remington 870. The Remington 870 is one of the most popular shotguns for duck hunting, and for good reason. ...
- Benelli Super Black Eagle III. ...
- Browning A5. ...
- Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus. ...
- Winchester SX4.
Swing and balance are two key factors when it comes to shooting accuracy and enhanced versatility when shooting waterfowl. That is why hunters going after geese, ducks and other waterfowl like to use a 28-inch barrel; it provides the most comfortable feel and better accuracy.
Is modified or full choke better for duck hunting? ›
Choosing a Choke
Light modified or modified are good choices for shooting over decoys. Improved modified is the best pick for pass shooting. Full chokes can deliver good patterns, especially with smaller shot, but with tight chokes you begin risking damage to the choke and gun by overconstricting hard pellets.
Now, he says, the 20s can cleanly take birds out to 35 yards or more. "Our members shoot HEVI-Shot or HEVI-Metal," he says. "Popular shot sizes include 4 and 6. We have learned that these loads shoot best through more open chokes like skeet, improved cylinder, and light modified.What choke is good for duck hunting? ›
For ducks and geese that are close, improved cylinder or even skeet constriction choke work well. If the birds are farther out, a modified choke tube is better.How many rounds of shotgun do you need for duck hunting? ›
Shotguns used for upland bird and waterfowl hunting must not be capable of holding more than three shotshells. Shotguns used for deer or bear must be 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 16 gauge, or 20 gauge and shoot slugs or #1 or larger buckshot.What makes a good duck hunting gun? ›
For a lot of duck and goose hunting, you'll use shotgun shells loaded with 1 ¼ ounces of shot or more. These loads generate a lot of recoil. To make their recoil bearable, you'll want to use a shotgun that weighs at least 7 pounds. If you plan to shoot heavy loads often, close to 8 pounds is better.What is the best over and under for duck hunting? ›
There are a lot of great over/unders for duck hunting but three of my favorites are Browning's Cynergy, CZ's Swamp Magnum, and Tristar's Hunter Mag II. Over/unders tend to be more expensive than many pumps and semiautos, but they are very reliable.Is an over under good for duck hunting? ›
Light over-under shotguns are not seen in duck blinds. With today's heavy loads of nontoxic shotshells, such guns simply kick too much. But a shooter who competes with an over-under all year can be very effective in any waterfowling situation if using the same gun, or a similar one.Is Benelli or Beretta better for duck hunting? ›
Overall, both shotguns are excellent choices for duck hunting, and the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference. The Benelli Super Black Eagle III is more reliable and has a slightly better shot pattern, while the Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus has better recoil reduction and water resistance features.