Shooting Puddle Ducks: 5 tips for hunting the afternoon shift
By M.D. Johnson
When it comes to duck hunting, there’s nothing quite like the dawn patrol: Sunrise, a promise on the eastern horizon. The sounds of the marsh coming to life. Mother Nature waking up.
But as tranquil as it is, first light may not be the best time to put puddle ducks on the strap, particularly on hard-hunted public wetlands. Here’s how to take advantage of the afternoon shift and get your crack at those bankers’ hours birds that many ’fowlers never see.
Scout the clock
To hunt mid-morning successfully, it’s essential you know when the flights take place. In Iowa, mid-morning activity generally picks up around 9 o’clock; in Washington state, the bell rings at 10 o’clock. Regardless of geographic location, scouting is key.
Scouting gear is minimal — a commitment to observe, binoculars and a watch. Find a good vantage point and make notes. What time do they arrive? From which direction? Do the birds circle or drop straight down?
Find the ‘X’
Mid-morning puddle ducks don’t dawdle. They know where they’re going, and they set down quickly. Once you’ve found that area, research it. Public land or private, Google Earth provides an initial mile-high look at the honey hole. Then the work begins.
Private land means permission prior to hands-on reconnaissance. Public, unless you’re familiar with the property, translates into additional mapwork before putting boots to the ground.
Arrive late, but early for puddle ducks
Now that you’ve found the ‘X,’ sleep in; however, it’s best to arrive an hour or so before the birds typically begin their return flights. Factor in travel — be it on foot or by boat — and give yourself plenty of time to get situated, including the blind, without hurrying.
Flush ’em out
Birds already there? It’s to your benefit to bite the bullet rather than shoot. Walk up, flush them out and let them leave by their own accord. Then set your spread quickly and get under cover.
There’s no guarantee they’ll return, but which is better: one or two birds for the day on the rise, or a full-boat six or seven in ones and twos as they come back? It’s certainly your call.
Set a small spread
My go-to rig for this style of hunting consists of 18 Texas-rigged mixed puddlers — mallards, pintails, widgeon, shovelers and teal — arranged in a loose circle, with a Rig ’Em Right jerk cord in the center.
On heavily pressured public lands, I’ll throw 12 coots — yes, coots — with a tiny pod of mallards and widgeon to one side, also with the jerk cord. Puddle ducks are comfortable around coots, and they see few all-coot spreads. I’ll leave the spinning wing decoy at home; again, to give the ducks something a little bit different from every other rig out there.