Ducks on Day Two: Get the Most Out of Opening Weekend
By M.D. Johnson
It’s opening day on Management Area Z. The boats, the blinds and the foot soldiers are thick but so, too, are the birds. It’s a good hunt for everyone involved.
Day two dawns, and the crowd’s still there; unfortunately, the ducks didn’t get the memo, and while there’s a stray here and there, the activity has dropped off to almost nothing. Just another day two on public ground, and a good reason to stay home and get something less enjoyable done. Or is it?
Luke Clark, friend and fanatical waterfowler hailing originally from Illinois, has done more than his fair share of gunning public wetlands on the day following the opener. He says that while it takes some extra time and effort, there are birds to be had.
“Day two,” says Clark, “is as big a bust as you make it. Anywhere you go, there are almost always resident birds around — somewhere — that will provide opportunities. You just have to find them. As for giving up on an area, I won’t do it unless I haven’t seen any birds for a few days.”
Finding them is key but, as Clark suggests, it’s not always easy. “Scouting, scouting, scouting. You need to find those places unmolested by people. No trails. No willow blinds. No evidence that other hunters have been there. I’m looking for those spots,” the young man says, “where hunters aren’t willing to go.”
And why aren’t they willing to go to these places? “In a lot of cases,” Clark says of his days hunting public waters in southern Illinois, “guys just haven’t looked for them. They haven’t gone the extra quarter mile up the creek to see what’s there. I’ll carry the canoe, if need be, and it’s amazing what I’ve found.”
To find these honey holes, Clark uses binoculars, an updated map of Management Area Z and, if necessary, his canoe. “I start hiking or rowing until I find those promising spots.”
Clark and his crew will reconnoiter an area until they know the location of every low spot that can hold water — on day two and throughout the season — depending on the rainfall. “It’s funny,” Clark says. “The more insignificant the spot seems, the fewer people are going to be there, if any. And the birds know that.”
Maps or electronic guidance like satellite imagery are indispensable tools for the day two ’fowler. With these tools, hunters can scout the fringes of an area, searching for small, isolated pockets of water.
It’s human nature, Clark says, to head to the center of the wildlife area; the big water. “Less is more on day two,” he continues. “These pressured ducks have been driven from their regular spots. For the most part, they’re not going back into the big marsh. They’re going to the skinny little creeks and small hidden pockets. That’s where you’ll find the local wood ducks and mallards.”