Plan B Ducks: How to make the most of second-best duck hunting
By M.D. Johnson
It’s duck hunting season. Opening day. You’ve scouted. You’ve planned. You’ve plotted and schemed. Your gear is ready. Rover is ready. And you’re in the best shape, physically, since high school. Well, almost. Everything’s as it should be, and all you have to do now is count down the immeasurable hours until legal shooting time, henceforth known as LST.
Unfortunately, there are circumstances beyond your control. Variables you haven’t taken into account; ones you couldn’t have anticipated. Human elements. Weather. Governmental. A wrench in the gears. The proverbial fly in the ointment. Time for plan B. You have a plan B, right?
Follow along here as we improvise, adapt and adjust to these very same unforeseeable, less-than-perfect situations we waterfowlers — especially those gunning public land — often see on opening day.
Your scouting reveals that your traditional opening day hole is dry — bone dry — with not enough rain forecast before the starting bell to fill it. What now?
While you might not be starting entirely from square one, you have your work cut out for you. Talk to wildlife area personnel to find out what else might be available for duck hunting on the property. Has there been any wetland construction you should know about? Is there recent beaver activity in the area that might have created a new duck hunting opportunity?
Don’t be shy about asking questions of the personnel. Paper maps and aerial imagery (e.g., Google Earth) is invaluable and deserves a second or third look too. In a worst-case scenario, you might have to turn your back on your favorite haunt, start from scratch and begin scouting anew on a nearby area.
Opening day is predicted to be sunny, with temperatures hovering around 80. It’s high humidity and, more than likely, lots of mosquitoes. What now?
Hunt early. Hunt late. That’s when you’re going to see the highest hunter pressure and resulting bird movement. Under these conditions, it’s vital to stay hydrated, set up in the shade (if possible, and if it’s not already occupied), and keep a very close eye on your retriever. Heat-related injuries can happen within seconds, even to strong, well-conditioned dogs. Keep them cool. As far as the mosquitoes are concerned, crank up that ThermaCELL unit in your blind bag.
A group of hunters to the north jumps the gun on LST by almost 10 minutes, according to your watch. Chaos ensues. What now?
Legally you have no choice but to bite the bullet (perhaps literally), observe the mayhem and wait until your Mickey Mouse says it’s time to load up. Be ready to go hot as soon as that last second ticks off, as chances are good the birds are up and moving, thanks to the early guns.
A solo hunter sets up 75 yards away just before LST. What now?
With the utmost diplomacy, approach the other hunter, explain that he appears a bit close for comfort, and impress upon him the safety concerns of his proximity to your position. There are ethical (i.e., first come/first served) issues at play here, too, which you can address.
Given this information, he may choose to relocate; he may not. If the latter, you might see if he’d like to combine forces and share a blind, thus commanding a greater and much more friendly field of fire, while keeping safety issues at bay. Unfortunately, there are times when no amount of “hat in my hand” will appease such an interloper. If you’re worried for your health and well-being, it’s time for a move. There will be another day, and Karma can be a mean ol’ thing.
Due to heavy rains upstream, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the gates overnight, increasing the flow on your opening day riverine spot and creating potentially unhuntable conditions. What now?
Safety is paramount here; no mallard is worth drowning for. And besides, the rising water will likely have displaced any ducks you’ve previously scouted. That said, it’s cruising time —preferably after sun-up when obstacles can be seen. Quiet backwaters, secluded eddies, inundated standing timber and newly-flooded acres all hold potential; however, all require time spent at the tiller to find. Face it; opening day just became scouting day, but it may be worth it when you discover 200 mallards paddling through a knee-deep field of foxtail.