Score Waterfowling Wins on Public Land

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Switch Duck and Goose Strategies to Top Your Competition

No one likes crowds, but you can't always avoid folks on public spots. Adapt to score more ducks. Photo © Phil Kahnke

On public land, just about everything works against you. There are more hunters and more pressure, and typically less good habitat. The way other folks hunt can dictate your success, and you’re darn sure going to sweat for ducks.

But that’s all many of us have. Sure, there might be a club invite once or twice a year, but if we want to go when we want to go, public is the only option. And you can follow some simple rules to take home heavy straps more often.

Waiting Game

If you’re new to public hunting, or hunting a new wildlife management area or national wildlife refuge, be patient, and keep your expectations low. The first morning I hunted a new walk-in area for teal a few years ago, we had a great bluewing shoot and even scored a band. It was blind luck. A buddy had told me about the place, and it turned out we went down the wrong levee in the dark. We thought we had found a honey hole but never killed another duck there the rest of the season. As the years went by, we discovered our first morning was an anomaly. The lesson: Don’t get discouraged. You’re hunting a wild bird on thousands of acres, with more decoys in the water than there are ducks on the refuge. It’s tough. Stick with it.

Set the Rig Right

Most of the public places I hunt, decoy spreads look the same — two blobs of floaters, or a J or U, and a spinner stuck in the middle. Don’t do that. Cluster feeder decoys in small groups, and string them along the edges of the impoundment. Put a couple of head-up floaters in the kill hole. Put the spinners in the hole of open water, and run a jerk rig. And don’t run all greenhead decoys, especially early in the season. This setup mimics birds landing in open water and swimming close to shore, where the food is. Plus, you have the added motion of the jerk string.

Don’t Leave Early

Getting a good spot or even getting drawn on public land typically means getting up hours before shooting light. It’s a time investment. So why not invest more? Most hunters wrap it up before noon. Wait them out, particularly later in the season, when birds have figured out they are getting their butts shot off a half-hour before sunrise to 9 a.m. I’m not guaranteeing success, but your odds increase.

Take ’Em Now

On private land, you can afford to let birds get right. You likely won’t get second chances on public. If you think you can kill a bird, kill it. That might be the only shot you get all day. My mentality is different on public land. We’re going to take longer shots, plain and simple. If a hen shoveler wants to commit suicide, OK. She can come on in. But if mallards are circling at 40 yards, they get one pass, maybe two, and we’re unloading on them. You might disagree with that, but I can’t count the number of times taking a shot like that has been the difference between killing birds and going home with empty straps.

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