DUCK HUNTING DURING THE UPLAND BIRD SEASON
by Aidan Pike
February 24, 2023
Photos Courtesy of: Prescot Sexton
Let's be honest: duck hunting can be a lot of fun. Sitting in the marsh or field with anticipation growing by the minute, waiting for shooting light. Watching as ducks of all kinds dump into your decoy spread. Waiting for the magic words, “TAKE ‘EM”. Unfortunately, there are many whose perception of duck hunting is skewed. One or more scary experiences can turn someone off the path to waterfowl addiction really fast. For example, trudging through hip-deep mud or walking a couple of miles back into a public land spot only to find other hunters in your intended spot. These are some prime examples of popular unfortunate occurrences while duck hunting. But when the stars align and things pan out, the experience can be truly unbelievable.
As an upland hunter, I tend to spend unfavorable portions of the grouse season chasing waterfowl. After getting my butt kicked by ruffed grouse, it feels nice to win. What I mean by that is when I’m grouse hunting, it seems that the odds tend to be in ole King Pat's favor most of the time. Walking out of the woods with a bird or two in my vest is always considered a good day while a good day of duck hunting is often much more action-packed. The transition from grouse hunting to waterfowl hunting causes me to have a change in perspective. I know that I’m going to have to use different skills and knowledge to be successful. Going from hunting one of the most seemingly unpredictable birds on the planet to a more pattern-oriented species is a much needed change of pace. Duck hunting can be broken down into two categories: field hunting and water hunting. Both are extremely fun for similar and different reasons. It wasn't until the fall of 2022 that I truly understood how glorious field hunting is. After you see a group of 50-100 mallards coming in cupped, you will understand why field hunting is a psychedelic drug for waterfowl hunters. One hunt in particular my buddies and I had groups of 300 mallards tornado down into our decoy and spread flock after flock. I’m talking pure chaos. Even after everyone shot their limit, the mallards wouldn't leave us alone. While picking up decoys, clouds of ducks were still trying to land on top of us. Hunts like this don’t come often but when they do, it makes for an unforgettable experience.
Keeping your hands warm and functional is extremely important when hunting ducks in the freezing cold. One thing that I like to do is crack open a package or two of hand warmers and put them in a hand muff. This way I can wear a thin pair of gloves and still keep my hands warm while sitting in the blind.
From my experience, ducks are more willing to come into decoys in the fields than when hunting on water. When field hunting, it's all or nothing. If the ducks are going someplace else or you have a bad hide, the hunt can be a bust. On the other hand, when the temperatures get into the negatives, waterfowl birds are forced to head to the water. Hunting a river, especially during a cold front, can be extremely effective. That's the nice thing about water hunting: the ducks always end up on it at some point. What often drives people away from field hunting is asking farmers for permission. In certain parts of the country, getting the green light from the landowner can be rather difficult. States like Texas often require connections or a lot of money to hunt. Fortunately for me, I have been able to meet very kind farmers and gain connections. Often like business, duck hunting can be more about who you know than what you know. It never hurts to ask and the worst thing the landowner can say is no. I can go on forever talking about how to talk to landowners. Ultimately, treat them with the utmost respect and the rest is out of your hands.
Field Hunting in Warmer Weather?
A light pair of pants like our Tongass Hybrid Pant will often suffice in a ground blind where the added breakup of camoflauge is not needed. They also work great as wader base layer. Keeping cool and comfortable will allow the hunt to last longer.
Scouting is one of the most vital things for a duck hunter. Learning where the birds roost, their flight patterns, and pinpointing the hot spot is essential to a good hunt. As a college student, I can’t spend hours each week burning gas and time driving to scout. As a result, I often spend Fridays locating the birds and trying to get permission. If I end up empty-handed, I almost always find something else to hunt Saturday morning. Then I can scout again on Saturday afternoon and try again to get permission. To be completely honest, field hunting is the absolute way to go when duck hunting. Usually, you can drive right out to the spot, unload decoys, and set up. Not having to deal with water when the temperatures are low is another bonus to field hunting.
In the grouse woods, I’m used to opportunities being few and far between. Don't get me wrong: I’ve had some great days but only because I capitalize on opportunities. Shooting at a grouse and weaving through trees is tough and often you get a glimpse for a split second. It’s challenging and that's why I love it. The wing shooting that duck hunting offers isn't very difficult. You are shooting at birds that willingly coming to you and you are also shooting them in open environments. Some hard-core duck hunters might say that flooded timber hunting is difficult shooting, but even then the birds are dropping straight down. If everything goes to plan on a good waterfowl hunt, the shooting shouldn't be very difficult, plain and simple. If it were about how hard they are to hit, all the grouse hunters in the world would be trying to take a crack at ducks. That’s not what it’s all about. It’s about so much more than pulling the trigger. It's about camaraderie and friendship. Waterfowl hunting has an interesting way of bringing people together. I've met a ton of friends through a shared passion for hunting ducks. After finding a spot with a ton of birds, you can then invite multiple hunters to come out and hunt with you. The more the merrier. This is the unique side of waterfowl hunting that can’t be experienced in the same way as upland hunting. Taking a break from the woods and diversifying your hunting season makes for a more fun and memorable fall.
About the Author
Aidan Pike is a devoted upland bird hunter who dedicates almost all of his free time to theoutdoors. Thus far he has successfully chased and harvested 10 different upland bird species across 5 states. Currently, Aidan is attending Montana State University and aspires to enter the business sector of the outdoor industry after college. During the off season he spends a considerable amount of time on the river fly fishing for trout. No matter what activity it is Aidan is eager to learn and grow his skills as an outdoorsman.