Last year during the early teal season here in Maryland, a friend of mine wanted to hunt a small back bay pond only accessible by kayaking. I didn’t own a kayak at the time and was a little concerned about getting my overweight XXL butt into a small piece of plastic. He said, "no worries… I have a kayak you can use and we’ll be fine”. There’s no doubt we take some aggressive tactics in our pursuit for waterfowl, but one thing I won’t do is risk my life. However, in this instance, it was the September season and the water was less than three feet deep so I figured even if I dumped my kayak, I would survive.
So here I am, two seasons later and I have to say, I now own two kayaks. And have pursued ducks in some of the tightest mud-haven, shallow bays that I could never have accessed in the past. Kayak hunting has become a regular part of my Waterfowling Strategy. I wanted to share with you the top 5 reasons you should consider hunting from a kayak.
You should consider adding a kayak to your waterfowling strategy as it might give you access to birds you normally would not be able to pursue. Keep it fun and most importantly, keep it safe!
VP, Sales & Marketing
Building a decoy spread is one of the most important parts of planning your waterfowl hunts. It’s something that obviously requires planning before you ever place a decoy in the water. After many years of hunting the Chesapeake Bay here in Maryland, I have learned several decoy tricks that I think will help you increase your chances of getting more birds in your spread.
First of all, you need to understand what kind of waterfowl you have in your area. I know it sounds simple, but you would not believe how many hunters I have seen placing a particular species in their spread that is not common to the area they are hunting. One thing to keep in mind is what birds will be available during each split. In many areas of the country there are different species of ducks available during the latter parts of the season that you would never see early in the season.
The second thing you need to do after finding out what species of birds are in your area is to understand how many decoys you might need to successfully attract these ducks. For example, if your area holds large numbers of bluebills and most of your scouting has shown large flocks of ducks consisting of bluebills, redheads, and canvasbacks … then you need to build a decoy spread similar to the flocks you are seeing on the water! Which means you should not have two dozen redheads and a dozen bluebills in your spread. You should have just the opposite.
The third thing that you must consider and understand is having the ability to adapt your spread as the season progresses. As the season gets later and your local ducks have moved out, the northern ducks have migrated in, which means the species of your decoys will most likely be changing as well. Here’s a great example of what I mean. I have 400 acres of marsh that I hunt on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. During the early season, I will put out teal, mallards, and a few black ducks. About 30 days later while hunting the exact same spot, I will put out mallards, black ducks, wigeon and gadwall decoys. And then 45 days or so after that, my spread will change to bluebills, redheads, buffleheads and canvasbacks. This shows three different decoy spreads being used all within the same spot. The only thing that has changed is the time of the season.
Not to make this more complicated but … along with adapting the types of ducks in your decoy spread you will also want to adapt the numbers of decoys you set out. Depending on the area you are hunting, as the season progresses you will most likely begin to increase the number of decoys in your spread. Quite often it takes a large number of decoys in the spread to pull those large migrating flocks down out of the sky. However, don’t forget to pay attention to the number of birds and how they are situated when conducting your scouting.
Now here’s something I think you will find of interest. Fowl Foolers is now offering a “Build Your Own Spread” dozen of decoys. Here’s what that means. You can select any species of duck, any sex, and any head for your dozen of decoys. What this means for you is you can now custom build your decoy spread with the appropriate numbers of decoys of each species represented in your local flock of ducks. Therefore, you are no longer stuck getting a dozen of a particular species when you really only want seven or eight in your spread! Now you can get more by getting a different species as a part of your dozen. This will be available on our website by the end of the month but you can call into the office to order today! Call Roz at 419-960-7307 and tell her you want to “BUILD YOUR OWN SPREAD!”
The Cabela’s, annual Outdoor Adventure Day event was hosted in partnership with the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation on Saturday, July 9, at 60 stores nationwide. The event offered interactive activities and fun for all ages. Families were encouraged to participate and learn about outdoor activities and recreation through informative seminars and hands-on activities provided by special group of outdoor professionals and partnering sporting organizations.
In Short Pump, VA, at Cabela’s, children and family members enjoyed a hot summer day indoors painting decoys. The decoy making activity was hosted by members of the Virginia Waterfowlers’ Association and the Rappahannock Carvers’ Guild.
Participants enjoyed the opportunity painting a variety of hand crafted duck decoys of many species. For many, the opportunity was their first time making a decoy. The event was free of charge and participants whom partake in the decoy painting activity took home free decoys. In a three hour period, thirty decoys were completed by the participants.
A variety of the decoys were made from components from Fowl Foolers decoys. In Virginia, decoy making has become popular year around activity at outdoor sportsmen events and 4H educational events. If you are interested in putting together a program or event making decoys, Fowl Foolers offers all the components needed to have a successful decoy making activity.
The following tips will help you master the art of reading ducks and adjust your calling to toll more birds into the Fowl Fooler Decoy Spread
Retrievers are hard-wired to fetch fallen birds. When a retriever sees a bird fall, his natural instinct is to go out and get it. Honing that innate ability so the dog hunts for you and not for himself is the key to the training process.
For this reason, the blind retrieve is perhaps the ultimate test of a finished duck dog.
A "blind" or "unseen" is a bird that a dog didn't see fall. To locate the bird, the dog needs to rely on his handler. This skill comes in handy in a variety of hunting scenarios. For example, when the action is heavy, your dog may be unable to mark each bird that falls. Likewise, your retriever may need help with locating a wing-tipped duck that sails a long way across the marsh or through the timber.
"Teaching a dog to retrieve an unseen is advanced field work," says Mike Stewart, of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. "But it isn't difficult if you have already laid a solid training foundation with skills such as obedience, steadiness, whistle training, casting, and various handling exercises."
Stewart says there are four parts to running a blind retrieve: lining, handling, hunting, and confidence. Lining is the dog's ability to take and follow the correct line or direct route to a bird despite barriers and distractions.
Handling involves your ability to control and direct the dog to a fall area. Hunting is the dog's skill at aggressively searching the area of the downed bird. And confidence is the dog's trust in both himself and in his handler's ability to direct him to the bird.
"This is, to a large degree, a trust issue," Stewart explains. "Your dog must respond positively to your commands. As such, he must have confidence that something good awaits when you send him in the direction of a downed bird. This exercise epitomizes the importance of a strong partnership between handler and retriever."
In Stewart's training program, proper lining is taught through memory patterns, in which the dog retrieves a bumper by remembering its placement over time and following the correct line to the reward. One of the rules of Stewart's Wildrose method is "Memories before hand signals, hand signals before marks." This has the advantage of promoting patience and steadiness. When the dog doesn't see the bumper fall but has to remember its location, he's less likely to break. In that sense, memories offer a better transition to blind retrieves.
In preparation for blind retrieves, Stewart's dogs run four memory exercises, including sight, trailing, circle, and loop drills. The dogs then learn "permanent unseens," "time-delay memories," and "cold unseens." In a permanent unseen the bumper is preplaced, so the dog has not seen it. Time delays involve extending the time between the placement of the bumper and the retrieve. And a cold unseen is simply another term for blind retrieve—that is, the dog fetches a bumper that he didn't see fall, in an unfamiliar place.
"Go slowly and use unseens judiciously," Stewart advises. "The value of balance in training cannot be overstated. As your advanced training continues to evolve, I recommend running cold unseens at a ratio of one unseen to five memories."
The key is to ensure that your retriever is successful during these training exercises. If your dog appears to be confused, start over. It is important for him to realize that he is being handled. Keep your retriever close in the beginning. This will give you better control over the dog and teach him to respond much more quickly to the whistle and your subsequent hand signals. Success builds confidence. And with that comes improved performance.
NYSDEC needs your help finding duck banding sites!
Every year, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, cooperating federal agencies and dedicated volunteers take to the field throughout the state to capture and band waterfowl. Annually, over 8,000 game birds are banded in NY and the data is used by biologists throughout the Atlantic Flyway to better understand harvest, movement patterns, and survival of the common breeding waterfowl species(mallards, wood ducks, and black ducks).
Banding ducks during the late summer/early fall can be quite difficult because birds are more spread out across the landscape and there is an abundance of natural foods. Finding suitable banding sites, close to office locations, is especially difficult. Because of these hurdles, DEC is asking for your help!
We are requesting your assistance in one of three ways:
1) identifying banding locations and obtaining permission to band
2) baiting banding sites – baiting sites involves visiting the wetland daily or every other day to put down bait
The ideal bait sites have the following characteristics:
1) Secure – an area where the trap will not be disturbed by people
2) Easy to access – often the traps are awkward to carry or heavy, having locations with vehicle access close to the wetland is important
3) Few or no Canada geese – like ducks, geese love corn and other popular baits for duck traps
4) Not a popular September Canada goose hunting area - our preference will be to run the trap through mid-September and we do not want to interfere with waterfowl hunting opportunities; trapping involves baiting the site and the area would be considered baited under federal regulations
We are looking for banding locations in the following areas:
If you think a wetland you own or can help obtain permission on fits the above description and is located in one of the areas highlighted in green (above) - please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org! In the e-mail, please include your name, contact information, and the street address or description of the wetlands location. Someone from our staff will follow up with you and determine if the site is suitable for banding.
Thank you for your time and help!
The NYSDEC Migratory Game Bird Team
Here's Some Ideas on How to Hit Shots You Missed Last Fall
Before I left for a big wingshooting trip in Argentina, a friend and accomplished sporting clays shooter suggested I spend some time breaking targets at a local shotgun club. I told him it sounded like a good idea, but internally dismissed the notion. I was about to be taking aim at millions of doves in Cordoba—surely burning through thousands of rounds would help get my shooting skills back in shape.
Two weeks later and thousands of miles away, I saw the error of my ways. As a flurry of birds descended, my field assistant loaded shells as fast as he could, heaping praise on my scattered shots and politely ignoring my more frequent misses. He blamed bad luck when I missed, but I knew better. It wasn't bad luck, it was bad shooting.
I learned a valuable lesson in Argentina that year: don't risk ruining a hunt by allowing your shotgunning skills to deteriorate in the off-season. Miss a dove (or 15) in Argentina and more will show up very shortly. Blow an easy shot on a pair of mallards or woodies in a hidden Ohio beaver pond and you might have lost your opportunity to harvest a bird for the rest of the day.
Waterfowlers come up with a myriad of excuses why they miss birds. Shells are frequently blamed for these failures, and shotguns take some of the heat, but the fact remains that most misses are caused by the shooter, not the equipment. The good news is, with a little off-season practice at the trap, skeet, or sporting clays range, you can see your percentages improve quickly.
Here are some of the most common mistakes hunters make and the remedy for each.
Your Target IQ Is Too LowNever heard of target IQ?
It's one of the fastest ways to improve your shotgun skills, and the key is shooting more targets. Breaking clays is no different from driving golf balls in the sense that repetition and exposure help you build muscle memory. As these innate movements develop, the conscious brain has less work to do and can devote more brainpower to the task at hand, whether that's sinking a six-foot putt or dropping a duck from a gray December sky. If you've shot 500 crossing shots at clay targets over the summer, you've increased your target IQ.
You Keep Switching Equipment
Ever hunt with someone who has a new shotgun every year or who swaps out 4s for 2s because he lost a cripple? That's a bad idea. Years ago I was advised by a championship shooter that if I was serious about improving my skills as a hunter, I needed to bring my duck gun to the range. Sure, the best shooters can hit targets with just about any gun, but gun mount, trigger break, length of pull, point of impact, and other characteristics vary from one shotgun to the next. It's important to take these nuances into consideration well before you enter the duck blind.
You're Getting Lost in the Crowd
There's nothing quite as stirring as witnessing a dozen greenheads cupped and slipping down through the treetops. Nor is there anything as embarrassing as watching those same ducks rise back out of the trees because you missed all of them. To avoid finding yourself in this situation, you must learn to kill one bird at a time by improving your focus.
To accomplish this, practice the following drill I picked up from a skilled trap shooter. While most dome clay targets are orange, to help him practice focusing on a single bird, this gentleman would occasionally buy a box of white targets or orange targets with black trim. It was my job to load the targets randomly, mixing the off-colored targets in with the standard orange ones. He'd call for birds, I would throw them in rapid succession, and he would break only the off-colored ones.
Diane Sorantino is one of the most sought-after clays instructors in the country. Sorantino teaches her students to develop a line from the point where you can see the target until the trigger is pulled. In essence, the shooter is identifying the area where the ducks will first appear, the place where they will be the easiest to hit, and figuring out how to get the shotgun mounted and in the correct place for the shot with the least wasted movement. This may sound like a tactic that's exclusive to clay games, but it's a valuable skill for duck and goose hunters. For one thing, it makes hunters aware of their shooting lanes and also encourages proper gun positioning. Duck hunters aren't known for being in prepared shooting positions. I've seen shotguns in a variety of not-prepared-for-action positions – leaning against the blind, resting a bench seat behind them, or worse. Knowing where the bird may appear, where the gun will be positioned, how and when to mount the gun, and where to make the shot are all keys to higher averages. And, if a bird shows up unexpectedly, shooters will be in a better position and frame of mind to make a quick and successful shot.
You're Swinging Behind the Bird
Gil Ash is one of the best-known competitors and shotgunning instructors in the industry. During an interview with Gil, he asked me if I felt like I was chasing ducks. Yes, of course I did. Had Gil ever seen a teal or wood duck whistling past? He then said something that stuck in my mind and changed the way I thought about shooting crossing targets forever.
"Stop starting your swing behind the bird," Ash said. "Swing ahead of them."
Ash explains that shooters will have to break an old habit of mounting the gun, scrambling to catch the bird, and shooting. After becoming comfortable with positioning the muzzle ahead of the target you won't revert back. I didn't. As a shooter who was taught to mount, pass, then shoot, this method seemed counterintuitive and I was skeptical. But after plenty of practice, my sporting clays scores improved, and I was a convert. Shooters who are chronically late to the target need to focus on their swing through practice and time, but it will be worth the effort.
The skeet range is an ideal place to improve a swing method. The majority of skeet targets are crossers, and a trip around the skeet field offers the perfect opportunity to master this swing-ahead maneuver.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is now saying that regulatory decisions will be made using biological data observed the previous year. I don't know about you, but that concerns me a little bit. What about the weird weather events we have during the spring and summer? What about the spikes of birds that actually showed up on the breeding grounds? What about the impact the hunters had on the waterfowl this past season? I'm not so sure this is a good idea.
The federal government says it's necessary in order to allow adequate time for biologist to properly digest and review the heaping amounts of data gathered each year. Apparently each state does not have enough time to make the appropriate decision on bag limits from within the federal guidelines. Of course, you also have to allow time for public opinion and reviews before the season opener.
I understand the biologist need more time to make good fundamental decisions. However, making these decisions based on old data will probably put the biologists at a disadvantage, making it even harder to make the right decisions on bag limits and season dates.
I guess time will tell what impact, if any, this change will have. Whether good or bad, the show must go on. I guess the annual duck forecast that I always look forward to reading each year will still have the same great data... only it will be from the previous year. Maybe I will look at last years forecast and approach the season with the same excitement I had last year about the bluebill numbers. However, I hope this season will produce better results than the last! So I don't know about you, but I'm still moving forward making my plans for the upcoming season.
“In the beginning, I told hunters to simply wave their flags up and down to simulate the image of a goose or duck flying up to and landing in some decoys or just stretching their wings or preening when they were on the ground,” said David Fletcher of Fletcher Outdoors. “Now after 20 years of experience, with thousands of waterfowl hunters using the flags and now the Fowl Foolers Flapper in thousands of places, some new and very effective flagging and flapping techniques have evolved.”
Here are 10 flagging strategies devised by goose and duck hunters from all across the country.
Make Major Motion
Be gross — walk or run through your decoys while waving flags in an exaggerated, bigger-than-life motion to attract geese or ducks at a distance.
Gross-motion, waving flags in six-foot-wide arcs while the hunter walks or runs through a decoy spread, can get the attention of birds a mile or more away. Ducks and geese have keen eyesight and they are way up in the air, so they can detect motion from long distances.
“Walking or running through your rig while waving a flag may at first seem a little ridiculous, but that funny feeling will soon disappear as soon as that first flock of honkers turns from pepper specks on the horizon to birds in your face,” said Tim Grounds, a practitioner of walking/running-while-waving method of flagging.
Be Subtle to Finish
When geese and ducks get close, be subtle with flagging movements.
Stop flagging just before you pick up your gun to shoot. But when birds are close, make sure you finesse your flagging. Reduce the motion to just minor flutters, characteristic of waterfowl walking on the ground or feeding.
Reduced motion is important because it can bring birds directly over the guns for up-close shots. Geese and ducks look for activity on the ground when they are ready to land, so convincing flag movement will help birds finish. It can keep birds from landing short or swinging to the far side of the spread.
Hide Behind Your Flags
Whether you are well concealed in a goose pit, totally camouflaged in a duck boat, shooting from an A-frame field blind or lying on the ground among decoys, you can use the flag as a shield for your face. You can still peek at the birds to read their progress, and then adjust for more calling, flagging or to shoot.
Use Flags With Other Motion Decoys
Flags can be used even when the spread includes other motion decoys — bags, windsocks, flying decoys, kites, full-body motion kits, moving shells, silhouette decoys and even spinning-wing devices.
Flags act a complementary decoy spread enhancers, and often serve to pull geese and ducks close enough so they see the other types of motion devices hunters have deployed.
However, flags have a distinct advantage over other motion devices. Because they are hand-operated, no wind or battery-powered motors are necessary. They don’t wear out, even after many years of active use in a wide range of conditions.
Flagging Without Decoys
Some waterfowl hunters have found that geese and ducks can be drawn to just the sight of flags in motion out in a feeding, resting or roosting area.
Pass-shooters have coaxed geese and ducks over fence lines, brush piles and other hiding places by merely waving a flag while calling. Obviously, making the birds finish is difficult, but they can be pulled within range by the motion and sound.
If nothing else, waving a flag might reposition the flight line of the flock on its way from a roost to a feeding field.
Flag In Place of Calling
Don’t blow your lungs out when waterfowl are too far upwind to hear a goose or duck call. Instead, use flags as a visual hail call instead to get the attention of long-range birds. On days when birds are passing upwind out of earshot or when you are running traffic fields, flagging might turn birds that won’t hear your calling or might commit quickly to another field.
“Most serious waterfowl hunters and all of the professional guides I know use flags to augment and sometimes replace calling,” according to Fred Zink, an international goose calling champion. “There are many days in the field under certain circumstances when flags have more influence than calling.”
Don’t Give Up
Even though geese or ducks have seen the flag and look like they won’t come into the decoy rig, don’t give up until they are gone.
Even when geese or ducks have been spooked by something in the decoy rig, keep at it. The motion of the flags can sometimes overcome an initial negative reaction. Similarly, resume waving flags after shooting into the flock. Sometimes, especially with early-season geese, flagging will bring them right back around for another pass.
Flag Ducks, Too
Although flagging is mainly associated with field hunting for geese, don’t forget about ducks.
The same attention-grabbing qualities that draw geese attract ducks, too. Hungry mallards and pintails often mix right in with geese in crop fields, so waving a goose flag is a perfectly natural enticer for ducks.
There are companies that market goose flags but we have developed the most efficient duck flag on the market today. Recently, the use of black flags in layout boats positioned in diver and sea duck decoy spreads has gained popularity. Bluebills, redheads, and scoters all respond to flagging motion that emulates landing birds in open water. Unlike flagging for puddle ducks or geese in a field, stop flagging divers as soon as you have their attention. Let your decoys do the finishing work.
Use Multiple Flags
If one flag is good, two can sometimes be better. One hunter can easily manipulate two flags at a time with one in each hand for twice the motion effect. Or, two flags can be mounted on one pole to simulate the image of two geese or ducks flying or landing together.
To really bring a field to life, several hunters can wave multiple flags to create the illusion that a larger flock is landing. Of course, when the birds get close, tone it down to just a couple flags flapping gently.
Observe and Practice
As with calling, practice can make a difference when it comes to flagging motion. Take your flag to place geese and ducks congregate, such as parks, golf courses, refuges or small lakes where you can observe birds.
Watch the mannerisms of live birds, and then duplicate it with the flags. You will discover important, helpful details about the wing motions ducks and geese make while landing, walking and swimming.