Waterfowl strategies

As one would suspect, the duck season opening weekend was a good one. Those that hunted spots with water and or food made quick work of limits. By far, teal were the most numerous birds that showed up on the stringers. There were also shovelars, pintail and widgeon also in fair numbers. Since the opening weekend, the last cool front pushed some gadwall and mallards into the area. There are some speckled bellies around, and the snow geese have been slow to arrive, but they will likely be right on schedule. Watch for their numbers to increase with the full moon that appeared last week. That full moon along with the accompanying cool front did push more waterfowl into our area.

I did contact several of the local outfitters concerning their hunts so far this season, and all of the results seemed to echo one another. Their clients, for the most part, took limits or near limits by 8:30 each morning. It seems that the ones that took near limits did manage to enjoy plenty of opportunities.Jim West at Bolivar Guide Service has been both a fishing and hunting guide for lots of years. That type of experience has allowed him to learn what to do and what not to do in order to hold the waterfowl in his hunt areas. Whenever the ducks or geese arrive, he will set aside an area where they won’t take the hunters. These are referred to as rest areas. Once the birds feel safe they will remain in that area for much of the season. Will they move around? Yes. The birds will move out in order to feed and then head for the rest area. Hunting spots down wind and just out of that rest area will be productive. Hunting in areas upwind and too near the rest area will blow the game out. In the case of the ducks, they might return or perhaps some new arrivals will replace them. Once the geese are blown out of an area, they seldom return that season.

West, along with the other experienced outfitters, will also not hunt the same places too often. Some folks will hunt an area day after day with declining results as the season continues. Certainly the newly migrating birds will take a look when the hunting spot is in a likely place, but as the season goes, on there are fewer birds still coming from the north.

The weather might also have a great effect on the waterfowl. Windy, overcast days seem to be the choice conditions for goose hunting. Whenever the birds begin moving between their feeding and resting areas on windy days, they tend to fly lower to the ground. For pass shooting, this is ideal since even the passing geese will be within shotgun range.

Keep in mind that high winds will have an effect upon the shotgun patterns. Besides that, the geese will use the wind to their advantage when escaping from missed shots. The smaller and lighter the shot sizes, the more they will be affected by the wind. The new heavy pellets in larger sizes seem to be much better choices for clean kills on both windy and not so windy days. These shot materials seem to hold their patterns extremely well.

For hunting geese, a 10 or 12-gauge shotgun is the better choice simply because the ammo contain more pellets. The 3-1/2 inch 12 gauge is nearly equal to the 10-gauge ammo, and the 12-gauge gun is much lighter. In some 3-1/2 chambered guns, those heavy load also have a heavy recoil. If you gun is not pleasant to shoot, then it is fine to use 3 inch or even 2-3/4 inch magnum ammo. These shoot just as hard as their big brothers. The 3-1/2 inch just has more pellets in them. The use of lighter gauge scatterguns is legal. A 16 or 20 gauge in the hands of an expert shooter will take geese. It’s just that with fewer shot in the shell, clean kills are more difficult.

Ducks are an entirely different matter. They are smaller and faster than the geese. For the ducks, smaller shot pellets will do fine, and certainly it is not necessary to use 3-1/2 inch 12-gauge or 10-gauge ammo. When hunting over decoys, the 12 gauge is still my choice, but 16, 20, and even 28-gauge scatterguns will work fine. The trick is to allow the birds to come near enough before pulling the trigger. The main thing for all hunters to remember is to be safe.

Billy Halfin can be reached at bhalfinoutdoors [at] aol [dot] com