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Thread: Duck Hunting 101

  1. #1
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    Default Duck Hunting 101

    My lab is getting frustrated with dragging me around the marshes not retrieving any ducks and told me I need to get help! I hunt south central AK and need some basic info like techniques, timing, calling, decoys, locations, gear, etc. Can someone please provide a Duck Hunting how-to tutorial?

    Techniques: Decoys vs Jump Shooting. What are the pros and cons of each and how do I do them? Any other techniques or general tips?

    Timing: Both how time of day and the time of season affects hunting and techniques. I tried opening day last year and will never do that again! I tend to hunt either mid-morning or evening - maybe I need to be out at sunrise?

    Calling: I've heard calling only scares ducks away and often wonder when I hear a call if its a duck or another hunter. Should I be calling or not, and if so, any advice on how and when to call?

    Decoys: I donít have any but would be willing to invest if they pay off. Seems like a lot of stuff to haul around the swamp. What kind or colors are good and how do I use them effectively?

    Locations: I donít expect any specific spots, but am interested in what general terrain or water features to look for such as lakes, ponds, streams, types of vegetation, depths, cover, wind direction, etc.

    Clothing: Currently using breathable chest waders and a rain jacket, but neither is camo. How important is camo? What shot sizes do you use and under what conditions: decoys vs jump shooting, big vs little ducks, etc.

    Any other advice you can share would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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    I am by no means an expert. In fact I consider myself the worlds worst avid duck hunter. Although I have gone out with some guys who are pretty good.

    All of these guys like hunting in the morning with decoys and duck calls.

    I believe camo is very important...but it seems to be more important not to be moving around when the ducks are near by.

    Calling seems to work sometimes and other times it doesn't. So I'm not convinced yet that it makes that much of a difference, however like I said the guys I've gone with that know what they're doing all believe in it.

    Decoys do work. I'd definitely buy some. Although from what I've seen most ducks in the area seem to look more like hens so this year I am painting some old decoys ugly duck brown to see if this works.

    Just remember I am not a good hunter, I am very new to it, but I am definitely addicted!!! Good luck

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    I don't usually do this but here it goes. I have been hunting geese and ducks for 15yrs, and I am not saying I am expert, but in 15yrs you tend to learn quite a bit if you are willing to pay attention to what works and what doesn't. I tend to use Decoys, it gives me a sense of accomplishment to know that I have lured my pry to me instead of trying to chase it. Timing If you are not going to expend the energy to get up a couple of hours before sun up and get out to your location then you might as well wait for the afternoon shoot, because if you are hunting mid mornin than all the birds have set down for there morning feed. Calling is very helpful if and only if you are profficient at using one. I have seen numerous times when birds on a lake that have no pressure will get up and leave at the sound of a poor caller. All you see is tail feathers until they are a tiny speck on the horizon. Decoys depend on what you are trying to hunt fro example buffleheads and golden eyes seldom land in Mallard blocks and vice versus. Pick the birds that you are trying to harvest. The only thing that I can tell you about location is that you need to take the time to go out and scout your area Plain and simple. And yes you do need camoflage you could use anything from expensive camo to match your landscape or you could make a blind in the field to fit in and be wearing blue jeans just as long as the birds don't see you before its time to pull the trigger. Waders all depend on the depth of the water sometimes you can get away with extra tuffs and sometimes you need chest waders, but always always use excess with this if you tend to be in mucky water and trip on hidden branches you might get lucky and be saved by the extra waterproof protection, exspecially if you are hunting in -40 like I do every now and then.

  4. #4
    Member AK Ray's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qberry View Post
    My lab is getting frustrated with dragging me around the marshes not retrieving any ducks and told me I need to get help! I hunt south central AK and need some basic info like techniques, timing, calling, decoys, locations, gear, etc. Can someone please provide a Duck Hunting how-to tutorial?

    Techniques: Decoys vs Jump Shooting. What are the pros and cons of each and how do I do them? Any other techniques or general tips?
    Specifically to South Central: Both work if you are in the spot that fits the technique. Jump shooting is hard to do around ponds up here (Knik, Hay Flats), but is a normal method for the Susitna Flats, 20 Mile, or the Coastal Refuge. There are dozens of books on the "how to" duck hunt as well as websites. Title Wave books has several good used duck hunting books from the dated 1950's up to more modern 1990's info. In this area the birds are in small family groups for the first couple of months of the season so a large stool of blocks may not draw many birds in.

    Timing: Both how time of day and the time of season affects hunting and techniques. I tried opening day last year and will never do that again! I tend to hunt either mid-morning or evening - maybe I need to be out at sunrise?
    There is nothing wrong with opening day as long as you plan for it a few days in advance. The birds are most active just before and after sunrise. Without a water/food/water environment like the midwest the birds have little need to fly in mid day. A lot of pressure and they will start feeding at night and the only shooting will be in the morning when they are headed home.

    Calling: I've heard calling only scares ducks away and often wonder when I hear a call if its a duck or another hunter. Should I be calling or not, and if so, any advice on how and when to call?
    Ducks in the wild don't make much noise other than a few quacks, so when you hear ducks quacking like crazy those are not ducks. If you hear kazoos those are not ducks either. When ducks are still in small family groups they do not talk to other ducks much. If you want to learn to call get a CD set like those from RNT. Learning when to call takes a lot of time in the field. I stick to simple quacks and feed chuckles if I feel the need to turn a duck. If you are set up in a spot the ducks want to be you do not need to call. The only way to learn where this is to get out in the swamp and watch birds and see what they are doing.

    Decoys: I donít have any but would be willing to invest if they pay off. Seems like a lot of stuff to haul around the swamp. What kind or colors are good and how do I use them effectively?
    Just a dozen mallard hens for the first month then throw in a couple of drakes. If you get the sickness you will pick up some wigeon and some green wing teal. More than 2 dozen blocks is pushing it for usefulness and the amount of gear you are hauling around. A pair of golden eye for marking the "takem" distance in the stool. Bluebills can be used as well. A spinner works and then it doesn't, too. It all depends on the birds. The most effective use of decoys is to place them where the ducks want to be anyway. Think of it like a bar. All bars have booze, but not all bars have good food and hot chicks. Alaska has a lot of bars (ponds/swamps), but not many have good food or hot chicks.

    Locations: I donít expect any specific spots, but am interested in what general terrain or water features to look for such as lakes, ponds, streams, types of vegetation, depths, cover, wind direction, etc.
    Go to Swan Lake and watch the birds, or go to the Hay Flats and watch the birds. Don't ask me where these are, but use the interwebs to scout them out. They are well marked on many mapping systems. You want to find water that has either a lot of seed plants or a lot of insects. It takes a lot of energy for a duck to fatten up for the migration so hunting over lifeless swamps will not work out well.

    Clothing: Currently using breathable chest waders and a rain jacket, but neither is camo. How important is camo? What shot sizes do you use and under what conditions: decoys vs jump shooting, big vs little ducks, etc.
    Camo is important, but not moving is more important. Not concealing your face can keep the birds away. If you are in a boat blind or other shore blind camo is not important. Movement is. Shot size is a whole other topic. #3 and #2 high speed works well for most duck situations.

    Any other advice you can share would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
    Seriously though, go buy a book and the basic info will be in there. Applying that info to the sureal world of Cook Inlet will just take time and getting exposed to the environment. And when you get tired of the book, use the search function on here and you will be surprized at the amount of if spilled out on this site.

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    Default Identifying bodies of water that ducks will use...

    I don't intend to hijack this thread, but these are probably duck hunting 101 topics.

    Doing my "research" on this forum I found discussions of bodies of water that don't get used by waterfowl and some of the assumptions implied that acidity or PH levels were responsible. Can anyone explain this a little more thoroughly? This was in reference to some of the ponds in the Susitna Flats.

    Another question, much more simple, how do you identify a food source...I have no idea what they're going after when they stick their little heads under water. I'm assuming that they eat some sort of aquatic plants, but what kind and how do you know if they're down there?

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    Quote Originally Posted by TMCKEE View Post
    I don't intend to hijack this thread, but these are probably duck hunting 101 topics.

    Doing my "research" on this forum I found discussions of bodies of water that don't get used by waterfowl and some of the assumptions implied that acidity or PH levels were responsible. Can anyone explain this a little more thoroughly? This was in reference to some of the ponds in the Susitna Flats.

    I believe I was commenting on the tundra ponds in and around Point McKenzie and not the Su Flats. The coastal flats have a variety of seed plants that the birds can use and those ponds get flushed with both fresh and brackish water. There are also a lot of worms in the silt that ducks dig for at low tide. (learned this from the paper in an article on dredging the shipping channel at the port).

    Those tundra ponds contain a high concentration of tanins from the rotting orgainics and without the flushing action by a creek or river the tanic acid builds up giving the ponds their brown color. The tanic acid keeps the water pH low enough that the pond will not support much insect or invertabrate growth, and will stunt plant growth. The inverts are important for baby ducks and hens in the summer. The shore lines might have enough cover and in some areas seed plants that will provide a small amount of food in the fall, but a clutch of duckings will starve to death quickly in the summer before any seeds are even developed.


    Another question, much more simple, how do you identify a food source...I have no idea what they're going after when they stick their little heads under water. I'm assuming that they eat some sort of aquatic plants, but what kind and how do you know if they're down there?
    Milfoil, sago pondweed, and wigeon grass are the aquatic plants to look for. There are several online sources for how to identify them. The USGS has a good site. The best way I have found to find a plant food source is to sit out there and watch where birds sit and actively eat. Many a time I was in a good spot to hide my boat, good fly over of birds, but the birds were always headed to the other side of the lake. After looking around I found that the area they headed into had a lot of seeds floating and milfoil. It was also too shallow to get my boat into. I never learned what the seeds were from, but could be tule/bullrush or sedges.

    Keep in mind that the birds may be feeding on a weed bed, but they are eating the snails from the weed bed and not the weeds.

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    I have been duck hunting for 15 years now, and I believe I have learned my waterfowling lessons well. Here is the advice I will give you.
    1. The pros and cons of hunting over decoys, or jump shooting:
    Both can be productive, and both have thier advantages. If you are hunting mid morning, it might be a better idea to jump shoot. Since the birds will normally be sitting at that time, and not moving around much. If you are hunting an area with lots of flooded grass, or small pot holes, jump shooting can definetly be another advantage, since the birds have so many places to sit, there will most likely be few places they really want to be. As far as how to jump shoot, I always found an area that gave me a good vantage point and scouted the areas the birds were sitting and then snuck up to them and jumped the birds up. The other technique that works, is walk around the marsh, and when a duck gets up...shoot it.

    Decoys are the method I prefer, The advantge of decoys, is if you are hunting big water, or areas where the birds are moving a lot, you can lure the birds into your pond and shoot them. I also believe decoys are a better way of killing birds, vs wounding them, since they are typically landing right in front of you, and giving you a clean head or vital shot. With decoys I like to use a mixed bag of mallards, widgeon, pintails, teal, and one or two divers. I haven't seen the birds really bothered with using full color decoys, vs eclipse colored decoys. I have heard of people saying you should have a larger hen vs drake ratio as well, but it never seemed to make much of a difference for me. I like to use the full color drakes in my spread, because they are more visible, and the birds can see them from farther away.

    2. Timing:
    Get up and get out early! The best time to hunt is the morning, the birds are moving, and will usually drop right into the decoys, with no calling or you having to do anything. After the morning flight, they will trickle in for the rest of the morning. Just make sure you pay attention to legal shooting times. It changes daily so keep a copy of the legal shooting times with you.

    3. Calling:
    Calling can be very affective, but you have to sound like a duck. The best way to learn the sounds they make, and when to use certain calls, is to go to a duck pond, sit down, and watch and listen. A lot of duck hunters make the mistake of calling too much, how often do you hear a duck just quack all day as loud as possible? If the birds are flaring from your calls, stop, and try to either quiet down, just give a couple quacks, or a feeder chuckle. The best advice I got on calling is wingtips and tail feathers, If you see these, call at them. If they are committed to your decoys, there is no reason to call them. Just remember to practice, blow the call from your gut, and not your cheeks, and it might also be worth it to buy an instructional dvd.

    4. Location:
    It all depends on what kind of ducks you want to hunt. If you want divers find some big water, like a lake, If you want puddle ducks, flooded grass, flooded timber, potholes, sloughs, or ponds are usually where you will find them. The birds will be feeding on various things, such as duckweed, millet, wild rice, snails, mollusks, or you may even find them feeding on salmon roe. If you find an area full of feeding birds, go down there and look at the vegetation and try to identify it. It will give you an idea of what you need to look for.

    5. Camo:
    Camo is very important to waterfowl hunting. Birds can see better than we can, and usually wont want to be near anything looking like a human during season. I like to get patterns that match my hunting areas. You want lighter patterns for grassy areas, and maybe a darker pattern for wooded areas. Blinds are important as well, even if it is just some grass zip tied to some fence wire, you will have a much better chance at shooting birds if you are well hidden. Pick up your spent shotgun shells off the water, and hide anything that is shiny. The birds will pick up on these and I have seen them flare away from them. Keep the area looking natural. Don't build a blind out of things that are not in the environment you hunt. I have seen birds pick up on this as well. Make sure you are still when they circle, they will pick up on movement really fast. I know its tempting to watch the birds circle, but too often I have seen hunts blown because people can't sit still. The last piece of advice I can give you on cammo, is make sure to cover your face. Camo face paint, or a camo mask will do the trick, but the birds will be able to pick out a human face staring out at them when they are coming to land in your blocks.

    Hope all of this helps, and good luck
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    Kind of a short summary, but if you are jump shooting you don't need to haul decoys, one option is just walk in somwhere & sit for a while where there are others actively moving the birds on a big lake or marsh area, then bring about 1/2 dozen & haul them on your back. Set them up with an opening so the ducks coming in can land into the wind & your decoys. As far as calling, learn the basic call of a contented hen mallard, & use it occasionally or when a single or doubles are flying around looking. Wouldn't hurt to pickup a teal / pintail whistle as well. Finally if you wait a couple weekends the opening crowds will be gone, but as others have said you need to be to your spot before shooting hours open. Also don't wait to long before going out as early winters can send the ducks flying south & out of here in Octber.

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    Default Ettiquette

    Thanks for all the great responses. One thing I've learned already is splashing around mid-day in a clown suit tootin a kazoo and flushing birds out of range isnt the best way to hunt ducks! I've actually been at this 5 or 6 seasons now trying to learn on my own, but my success rate has been going down year to year - some days my lab finds more wounded birds than I even shoot at. Regardless, we both really enjoy the time in the field so we will keep going even if we get skunked.

    Another topic I forgot to ask about is general ettiquette rules, especially in the more crowded areas like Turnagain Arm or the Hay Flats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by qberry View Post
    Another topic I forgot to ask about is general ettiquette rules, especially in the more crowded areas like Turnagain Arm or the Hay Flats.
    If you want to be successful you should not be within 600 yards of another group of people on the same flight path. I have learned that many people can't judge distance beyond a few yards, so people set up right on top of others all the time.

    If birds are working another hunters spread don't do anything to disrupt them so that you can take advantage of the birds that flare off when they shoot. If you start blowing a kazoo and moving around when the ducks swing you may flare them off the other spot and yours. Just sit tight and wait it out. Many times flared brids have come into my spread looking for safety, but didnt' find it.

    Don't motor through someones spread a few minutes after shooting time. If you are late stay put out of the way and deal with your time issues. Over the years I have learned that a lot of boat drivers don't know how to navigate in the dark. They don't have running lights or spot lights. They don't spend time learning the swamps in the daylight or the dark. So they end up showing up at first light messing everything up for the whole lake. Sure they put up some loafing birds, but it is against the law to shoot those birds since they have been "rallied" by the late boat. Several times these guys have swung by my setup and appologized for being late and messing things up, but then stated "at least we put some birds up for you" not knowing that it is against the law to shoot those birds since I know they are up because they were flushed by a boat. And since that lake complex is so large those rallied birds are gone for the rest of the day.

    Don't set up in a slough used to access a lake and then get upset at all the boats that come through.

    If you come into an small pond/lake with limited hunting spots where there already are groups of people camped out at the ramp to get ready for the next morning, do not "snipe" the area at 2am while everyone is sleeping.

    How to get people to follow these basic concepts is something I have yet to learn.

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