Always try to scout the area prior to shooting, especially if you haven’t shot there before; it’s amazing what you can achieve in just a few evenings and mornings.
Many areas around the country hold good numbers of waterfowl, but a fair number are protected. Remember, the birds move around according to the weather conditions and food sources, so don’t be afraid to watch and learn.
The key is to find out where these birds are feeding and resting, but to do this you need to get out and about, watch, and learn their behaviour. Look at where the ducks are moving to – the areas will differ due to varying weather patterns. Most birds will seek out food in the morning, look for safety and cover during the day, then feed again in the evenings.
Make sure you ask farmers for access to their property. Most are approachable, but see them well in advance – when you’re not dressed in full camo. Dress nicely, take ID and be polite. Farmers can also offer a fair bit of good advice on waterfowl movements, as they’re in the field all the time.
Even at this early stage it pays to keep your distance from your quarry; a good pair of binoculars is essential so you don’t disturb the birds prior to hunting.
Not all ponds hold ducks. I’ve spent a fair bit of time sitting in the rushes or under willows in anticipation. Sadly, a fair few were also spent looking at an empty sky and an empty bag. On reflection, while the ponds looked great, I hadn’t done the homework required to see if the birds agreed.
Look for a pond close to a good food source. This is where birds will go to feed, and they generally won’t travel too far away from it afterwards. Maize paddocks are not always the key to success though, as modern harvesting methods often leave very little behind.
Look for the flight paths. Find some higher ground near large waterways that hold good numbers of birds, and spend a few evenings or early mornings watching where they are heading. Even if you don’t see the birds landing in your pond, if good numbers of birds are flying over, you should be able to peel a few birds away. Obviously, the right calling and decoy spread will be crucial to your success in this situation.
Ducks love cover. Raupo and willows overhanging the bank offer effective protection from hawks and other predators. Weather will also help determine where the birds hide out.
We hunt an area not far from the West Coast; if the wind’s blowing from the west, chopping the coastal waters where the birds raft up, they head inland to find shelter – and the resulting hunting is great!
There’s certainly no shortage of decoys on the market, but not all decoys are made equal. A lot of seasoned hunters will own a variety of decoys, ranging from brand new to retirement age. I’ve found most decoys can still be used in the right spots. I use all my older, worn-looking decoys in the dark corners where colour is not as important, as the birds above will not be able to distinguish these. My newer decoys take pride of place in the prominent areas. Any motion decoys are also in the prominent areas where they can be seen from the greatest distance.
Leave a good landing area right where you want the birds to settle within shooting range. Conversely, make sure you fill up the areas that will be difficult to shoot birds over.
Look at where the sun rises and sets – there’s nothing worse than spending all that time setting up, for it to turn to custard when the birds start flying in with the sun behind them!
For the novice, there are plenty of duck-caller options available, including some good, economical ones. It pays to start off with a polycarbonate or wood caller in a double reed, as these are generally easier to blow. As you progress, you may want to step it up to an acrylic caller, which will help with volume and the more complex duck talk.
Duck calling, like any musical instrument, doesn’t come naturally most, so practice makes perfect. Also, remember that what sounds great to us may not always sound so good to the birds. Ask a mate who gets results if he will teach you, or at the very least give you a few pointers. It may sound a bit OTT, but you can also record yourself and listen to the results in comparison to what you hear at a local pond…
Keep your volume relative to the distance the birds are at: a 3000db call when the bird is 75 metres out will just scare the quack out of it. Also, as the bird’s approach, reduce your volume, with some nice soft quacks to finish generally sealing the deal.
Electronic callers are a tad controversial with some seasoned callers, and I can understand why. But for the novice hunter they can help a great deal, and even for the seasoned hunter they are able to add a bit of what I call ‘background chatter’ to the mix. A low-volume feed chatter while laying out a greeting call can work wonders, enticing a wily greenhead into the zone.
If there is one thing I’ve learnt over the years, more than anything else: you won’t shoot birds from your living room, so get out there and get amongst them!
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