Duck Hunter Killing time Rather than Killing Waterfowl
Here’s an excerpt from Phil Bourjaily of Field & Stream on 3 Rules of Waterfowl Hunting that he likes to abide by.
1. Scout fields yourself. Don’t rely on second-hand intelligence.
2. If you think it’s time to pick up and move, move. Don’t wait.
3. Never leave your decoys.
These are great advices but here’s our take on waterfowl hunting in California from avid hunter Brian Lull where his perspective is more to the common waterfowl hunter in his area.
California is typically No. 2 or 3 in terms of numbers of ducks killed each season. The only state that beats us consistently is Louisiana, home of the infamous Duck Commander crew. So to someone who doesn’t speak duck, one might think that we California sportsmen kill limits every morning we slide into our waders.
As avid waterfowlers know, that simply ain’t the case. Our sunny California weather plays a huge role in why we don’t kill limits every day at Colusa, Sutter Butte and Gray Lodge refuges. Blue bird days are more common than not these days.
The typical duck hunt often starts with a flock of teal dive bombing into the decoys and leaving just before legal shooting time. It’s almost as if they have little wrist watches.
And once shooting time arrives, we get to watch as flocks of high fliers return from their night feeding to the refuge. Oh, sure, one lone shoveler might commit spoon-a-cide and come join our flock of plastic unblinking decoys. Yet by and large, most flocks will head straight for the safe areas of the refuge when the weather’s nice. So besides telling off-color jokes with our hunting partners to pass the time, we at California Sportsman have a few suggestions for killing time in the marsh:
1. Kill something besides ducks
Regulations permitting, there are several birds that can be hunted not far from your dead spread. Here are a couple:
Snipe are a favorite prey of mine, but no one seems to hunt them here. Back East they are a revered game bird; out here, not so much. I often get a funny look when I tell someone I limited on them.
The truth is snipe are often found in many of the same spots we hunt ducks. That mushy, muddy, flat on the back of the slough you’re hunting is a perfect spot. Snipe feed on invertebrates in the mud by probing with their long beaks.
You will encounter snipe as singles or pairs – three are a veritable flock. When flushed, they often fly out in a zigzag path while scolding you with a screech or two. But they have a peculiar trait. If for some reason you don’t shoot on the initial flush, they will often fly back over the top of you for a high crossing shot.
2. Enjoy armed bird watching
California’s marshes are the some of the most bird-rich wetland in the world. Shore birds, raptors, upland birds, those LBBs – little brown birds – that flit through the blind as you’re scanning the empty skies. The variety is staggering and figuring out what kind of bird you’re looking at is a great way to pass some time. With smart phone technology, the answer is right at your fingertips.
3. Think of improvements
Is your blind really that good? Does it look like a blind?
Ducks see you from above, so while your hide might look great from the horizontal plane we inhabit, what really matters is, does it look like another of those black boxes of death waterfowl have seen since they left Alaska or Alberta? Overhead cover and shadow is the key to killing to educated ducks.
Reconsider your calling. Does it really have a positive impact on the flocks? Our pride often gets in the way of killing birds. Most often the best thing most hunters can do is to just put the kazoo away. Heavily hunted ducks don’t often wish to call attention to themselves. The real ducks will show you how to hunt.
Then there’s the subject of decoys and placement. Take a drive by areas closed to hunting and see how the birds really look while resting. They look relaxed. They also mix in with other species.
Some days you have to float every decoy in the armada to get any attention, but many times smaller is better. Motion – and the right motion – is the key to making your set look alive. I will take six decoys with a way to make them move so they make ripples over a spread of 200 lifeless-looking ones any day.
4. Walk your worries away
Go on a walkabout. If you are near free-roam areas and the day is slow, why not go see what the next pond over looks like? I have discovered many small pockets of water that hold birds by doing this over the years. Marshes are ever-changing ecosystems. Ponds grow over, new ones form.
You may be looking at a satellite picture of your area that is 10 years old. We rely too much on technology. There is no substitute for boots-on-the-ground reconnaissance.
There is no wasted day in the duck blind. And keep in mind, it beats being at work, so take time to enjoy those all too common blue bird days. It makes you appreciate the limit-out days all that much more.
Story by Brian Lull