By Dalton Walden, Slayer PRO Staffer
Not every duck hunt goes to plan — and that seems even more true when you’re hunting on public land.
If you’ve got your head in your hands, wondering where things went south, don’t get discouraged. These five tactics have led to many successful duck hunts on public land.
Research location options
Finding a good public location to duck hunt can be easier said than done. You’re not alone if you’re asking yourself, “Where do I go?”
First, do some research on the available public land. Freemium or paid apps such as onX, GAIA GPS and BaseMap can give you an idea of the public land in your state and local area. State fish, game and wildlife services, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers websites provide useful information like locations, site maps and area-specific regulations.
The next step is to research which areas hold ducks or support habitats that ducks like. I like to start with locations close to home and work my way out. Then study the terrain. Does the area consist of wetlands, lakes, rivers, creeks, bayous or sloughs? Is it flooded timber, open water or fields? These are the habitats ducks hang out in, so look for these types of terrain.
Read the waterfowl reports
Once you’ve found a promising location, read the waterfowl reports. Wildlife biologist reports for each management area give an in-depth description of their weekly aerial reconnaissance of the area. The reports can help you decide which public areas to focus on and which should be delegated to “last resort.”
The reports will also help you avoid areas with a lot of hunting pressure. Nothing is worse on ducks than pressure, which makes them timid and hard to work. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when hunting pressure-savvy birds. If you find an area that looks good aside from the pressure, try hunting early or late in the day, on weekdays or on the day after rest periods.
Don’t overlook areas that the waterfowl reports say attract fewer birds — they tend to also attract fewer hunters. These areas will have less pressure, and the duck-to-hunter ratio may be closer to your sweet spot.
Scout new spots on foot
This is the blood, sweat and tears of finding duck hunting spots on public land. Scouting can be difficult and time-consuming, but it can also be the most rewarding way to find new locations.
You need to put in the hours, the miles, the steps, and the effort if you want to succeed at duck hunting on public land. A good rule of thumb is that for every one to two days of hunting, you should put in at least three to five days of scouting.
Scouting isn’t just about hopping in a boat and running the lakes and rivers; you need to walk the land. If you work harder than other hunters to scout the best locations, there’s a chance you can find an isolated gold mine. Put in the physical effort to discover those hard-to-reach locations, and don’t get discouraged on days when your long walks come up empty.
Track the weather radar
Watching the weather and radar in your areas of interest is vital. Depending on the kind of terrain or coverage you hunt, something as simple as cloud coverage can drastically change the outcome.
Follow these tips, depending on the weather conditions:
- If the sun is shining, hunt timber or brushy areas.
- If it’s cloudy, rainy or foggy, find open water, an open flat or a field.
For a duck, flying in the rain and fog is like walking when you can’t see what’s in front of you. Ducks gravitate toward areas that are more open and forgiving when the weather is foul so they can land safely. Don’t let something as simple as checking the weather impede your chances of a successful hunt.
Create a backup plan
There’s nothing like waking up before the crack of dawn, driving out of town, and arriving at your well-researched spot … to find someone else already sitting there.
This can happen a lot on public land, so always have a backup plan. While doing reconnaissance for an area, find a nearby secondary location that meets your needs. This can save your hunt and your peace of mind.
Your competition isn’t the only reason to have a backup plan. Wind direction and other weather conditions can suddenly change, so your primary spot may no longer be ideal. Plan for contingencies. It can be the difference between a successful hunt and a waterfowling flop.
Make these tips work for your hunt
Every waterfowler develops their own approach to hunting on public land. These five tactics have helped me find continual success. Try them out and tweak them to work for your hunting style.
If you give these tips a try, let us know how your public lands hunt goes. And share your tried-and-true tactics below/on social.