by Chris Larsen
"Wait. One more pass." My hunting companion visualized this flock of six mallards slipping through a small hole in the tree line and crashing into our decoys with their feet down. Instead, they took one more look and raised altitude before flying into an adjacent county. These birds had seen plenty of decoys, heard their share of duck calls, and felt the boom of shotguns enough to know our plastic flock of stunt double ducks were no friends of theirs. It only takes a week or two after opening day before local ducks figure out where the safe areas are. A few bad experiences with shotguns is all it takes for birds to think twice before setting their wings and dropping into a decoy set.
Hunting pressured ducks successfully takes a different strategy from opening day duck hunts. These birds have wised up and migratory birds haven't arrived yet. If hunters don't adjust their tactics, empty game straps are the result. Often times it's as simple as going a little bit further and working just a little bit harder than the next guy. In other instances, hunting pressured ducks takes a full scale shift in how we hunt.
Get Away From It All
The best way to hunt pressured ducks is to hunt where they are not being pressured. This takes a lot of scouting, but most of it can be done from the comfort of your own home. I study river systems on sites like Google maps and look for backwaters in out of the way areas. Oxbow ponds and small bodies of waters off the main channel offer great shooting. Many of these ponds are across the river from access points and most hunters just don't bother to explore the area well enough to find them. Finding spots ducks use but hunters don't will help you shoot more birds.
Hunt The Edges
This is a strategy often used in deer hunting. Instead of slamming a pond that's loaded with ducks and geese, find a field nearby that the ducks are feeding in. The birds will stay in the area as long as their roost pond remains undisturbed. If you blast the pond, you'll get one, maybe two days of good shooting. Hunting the fields and leaving the pond untouched will provide a season's worth of shooting as migratory birds will be drawn in by the real ducks on the water.
Extreme Decoy Makeover
Everybody hunts with mallard decoys. Mix up your spread with some teal or widgeon decoys. I had some of the best hunting I've ever experience a few years ago hunting a friend's spread. He had a half dozen pintails and a handful of coot decoys mixed into his spread. I've never seen a pintail in the area but ducks seemed to be mesmerized by this spread. Most hunters don't use pintail or coot decoys. When birds are pressured doing something others hunters are not doing is an advantage. Most importantly, make sure your spread is up to date. Clean up your dekes and give the speculums and heads a fresh coat of paint.
A little motion doesn't hurt either. There are motorized decoys with spinning and flapping decoys. One of my favorite tools, especially on small ponds and marshes, is the Edge By Expedite Quiver Magnet. It's an incredibly simple, puck shaped object that puts ripples and waves on the water's surface. They don't take up a lot of space and add life to your spread. If you've ever viewed ducks from above you'll notice splashing and ripples all over the water. Ducks see this wherever they go and are used to seeing a little splash. Another good trick is periodically walking through the decoys. When ducks feed in a marsh they stir up a lot of mud and stain the water. Walking through the decoys will create the same effect.
Step Out Of The Office
In many places, hunting out of a permanent blind is engrained in the culture of duck hunting. Some waterfowl hunters wouldn't dream of hunting any other way. When ducks are feeling the heat hunters need to get out of their blinds and into the brush. Camouflage from 20 years ago isn't even comparable to today's patterns. Just setting up in brush or behind fallen timber is a great way to disappear into the landscape and fool more ducks.
Silence Is Golden
Knowing when to stop talking and let a prospect decide on a sale is what separates a good salesman from a bad one. This goes for duck callers too. If ducks are taking a peek at the spread, I've found it best to just put the call away and let them do their thing. If you're scouting is good, you are already where they want to be and calling will only talk them out of putting their feet down. Use your call to get attention from distant flocks but once they turn to come take a look, stop calling. Pressured birds have heard a lot of calling and most of it bad. At this point they can pick out the fakes with the efficiency of a jeweler spotting a faux-lex.
Highly pressured waterfowl offer more of a challenge than opening day ducks. With some strategy adjustments and a little work, you'll match or even increase early season success. In my opinion, the extra work makes the hunt more rewarding.