Calm Days Bring Challenges, But Don't Give Up Hope
I’ve long suspected a cabal of evil TV weather-folks delights in frustrating waterfowl hunters. Much of their false-forecast conspiracy involves wind.
You’ve been there, right? The 10 p.m. news promises northwest winds at 5 to 10 mph building to 15 to 25. A quick check online confirms that, so you call your buddies, ready the boat and dream about whistling wings. The next morning, however, your local lake or slough looks like a mirror; calm, flat and motionless. The cabal has struck again. Oh, ducks and geese will still fly to and from roosting, feeding and loafing areas, but with no wind, they won’t be compelled to continue moving or seek calm areas throughout the day. Further, your decoys will look like lifeless blobs, and although birds might approach your fakes, they often don’t finish.
Don’t fret. You can overcome calm conditions and find success. Try these tips.
The obvious fix for motionless decoys is to add movement. Spinning-wing decoys can help, but they don’t work all the time. For water hunts, it’s better to use a jerk-string, swimming decoy or similar rig to add life to your spread. Birds that see realistic swimming or feeding movement on the water are much more likely to pitch in for a look.
During field hunts for ducks, spinners usually do the trick. In fact, they’re often indispensable, whether the wind blows or stalls. With field geese, incorporate several motion-stake-type full-body decoys, which rotate side to side at the slightest breeze. Those can give the appearance of feeding geese working through a field.
Spread ’Em Out
Hunters — especially diver guys — worry endlessly about the configuration of their spreads. During calm days, however, you can throw most conventional rigs — J, V or two-blob spreads, for example — out the window. Without wind and waves, ducks and geese can loaf or feed anywhere, and they don’t often bunch together tightly. Mimic that by spreading your decoys out, even configuring your spread into a long, loose blob, with decoys spaced much farther apart than you’d normally set them. This will appear much more natural to skittish birds. And when you add motion, you have a realistic setup.
Take What You’re Given
Perhaps the most important consideration for calm days is to make the most of any opportunities. Ducks will almost always move about at first light. Be set up and ready to shoot, and don’t wait for them to finish. If a flock offers a good shot at 35 yards, take it.
And of course, during days with no wind, you should almost always set up with the sun at your back. This will help later in the morning, as approaching birds will have sunlight in their eyes and won’t be able to bust your hide as easily. But again, don’t wait for perfect finishing shots. When ducks or geese approach within good range, call the shot, and make hay.
Hey, calm days probably won’t rival those classic mornings with a plunging barometer and a north wind at your back. However, they don’t assure failure. Hunt smart, and take what you can get. Hanging a few birds on your strap will go a long way toward thwarting the League of Evil Weathermen.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.