January 29, 2014 – Waterfowl Ambassador, Eric Strand
The 2013-2014 waterfowl season is all but over, and I find this an opportune time to reflect on the things that went great and things that could have gone better. As waterfowl hunters we are constantly faced with new challenges on a daily and sometimes even hourly basis. This is what makes the sport so addicting – the constant need to adapt and hone your skills on a moment’s notice. These skills include scouting, bird ID, calling, decoy placement, the ability to read situations and birds, shooting and the ability to hide in any situation with very little cover. In my opinion your blind or “hide” is one of the most overlooked but also most important pieces to every hunt. I have a lot of waterfowl hunters ask “how can I get more birds to decoy?” Often I notice they’re paying more attention to their decoy spread and calling and not enough to the hide. Getting birds to finish in the decoys within 30 yards on a consistent basis isn’t easy but you will have more success if you take an extra 10-20 minutes each day to work on your hide. We could sit down and discuss every situation possible but my hope is that the following 5 tips will make you a better waterfowl hunter and give you the edge day in and day out as we chase waterfowl from September to March!
1) The use of shadows – One of the first things I look for when setting my blind or blinds is the sun’s location relative to my setup. I always try to use shadows to help hide myself and my group of hunters. Positioning the sun at your back will give you the upper hand when calling and decoying ducks in close. The shadows hide your body and any movement you might have while also giving the ducks a sort of blind spot when they are working the spread. Add to this the wind at your back, or quartering away from your back, and now the birds have to look into the sun on their final approach once again giving you another advantage. Using the sun and shadows to your advantage will make a noticeable difference each and every day.
2) Use the “edge” – Hunters across the country are getting wise to using the edges of fields and flooded areas to their advantage as the “edge” normally provides great cover to hide and build blinds. When I approach an “edge” hide I look for an edge that allows me to be in the open (free from timbered edges, hedges, large machinery, etc) while also providing good cover. If you look hard enough you can find a good edge or transition edge on many fields and floods that birds frequent. This being said, if you choose to hunt the edge you have to be smart about how you hide and make sure you take every precaution necessary to be completely hidden as this is not the “natural” place that birds want to land when approaching a field. We have had incredible success hunting the edge over the last 15 years and will continue to hunt the edge as long as it proves successful.
3) The “build a hide” – Piggy backing off what we just discussed in hunting the edge, another option for hunting an edge is building an edge or what we like to call the “build a hide”. The build a hide is somewhat self explanatory, but if you decide this is something you want to do you need to plan on taking quite a bit of extra time when setting up as building a hide takes a lot of time and a lot of cover. When we build a hide we like to make the edge or hide’s footprint quite a bit larger than needed to hide your blinds. We do this as to make it look as natural as possible and less like a clump of blinds on the edge of a field. Using fence lines, road edges, wheel lines, sprinkler heads and cross ditches are great ways to start a build a hide as you have something to build off of. Our goal is to make the hide/edge look as natural as possible so using these existing lines/structures is a great way to achieve this. This technique is quickly becoming popular with many waterfowl hunters simply because it works and it makes area’s that were previously un-huntable, huntable again. Try this a couple times and I’m sure you will quickly find it that it’s deadly in the right location.
4) Using top cover – We as waterfowl hunters are a strange bunch. All too many times while hunting on both private and public property I notice that hunters would rather have a good view and be able to see birds rather than having a solid hide and a great hunt. Guess what-if you can see them well they can see you as well! One thing I notice time and time again is how under-utilized top cover is. Selecting an area with existing top cover (timber, brush, corn, etc) is very important and not only provides a great visual barrier from birds working overhead but it also helps provide shadows when the sun is out. If you focus your blind building and hiding efforts to areas that provide good top cover, you will be able to get away with more movement and allow birds to work in overhead without flaring. It may sound simple but it is something that is constantly overlooked.The next time you are in the field, look for overhead cover and you will see the difference!
5) Hiding in the timber – Hunting ducks in the timber is hands down my all-time favorite and hiding in the timber can be one of the hardest things to do if you don’t think like a duck and get creative! In my mind, there are two ways to go about hunting in the flooded timber or in a timber type scenario, from an established well camouflaged blind or by spreading out and “hugging” a tree. I prefer the latter of the two but have had great success from established blinds as well. If hunting from an established blind the best thing you can do is create a thick wall of cover with “shooting holes” to call and shoot from. In my opinion birds get used to seeing these established well constructed blinds and they don’t mind their presence as much as they would a make shift temporary blind. If you have the ability to build a blind like this, well then by all means go for it, but for the most part we are hunting timber on public areas where each day we are hunting from a different location. In this type of scenario I prefer the “tree hugging” approach. Have your group spread out in the timber and select trees with a solid trunk base and good top cover and play hide and seek with the birds as they approach and work the hole and the decoys. This strategy is deadly as it is difficult for birds to pin point any one hunter as they circle over top and it also gives you the ability to be mobile if the wind shifts or the birds start approaching the hole differently as the morning moves by. Give this method a try and I can assure you this will quickly become one of your favorite ways to hunt!
I know we barely scratched the surface of hunting scenarios, but I hope these 5 tips will give you the upper hand this coming waterfowl season. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your next waterfowl hunt. Be safe and good hunting!
About Eric Strand:
– Owner of Decoy Dancer Motion Products www.decoydancer.com
– Co-owner of S2 Calls and S2 Outfitters www.S2calls.com
– Has won over 45 state, regional and open duck and goose calling contests
– Placed 3rd at the 2013 World Goose Calling Contest
– The waterfowl ambassador for the Oregon Outdoor Council, board member for Oregon Duck Hunters Association and Oregon Waterfowl Festival