Hunting in the winter is not just difficult, it is dangerous. Things that were an inconvenience in the early season can be life threatening in the cold. On this episode I talk about the most common things that threaten the safety of waterfowl hunters and what you can do to avoid those dangers and live to hunt another day.
The most dangerous things in waterfowl hunting are the water and the cold. And of course, cold water. Firearms are not even close to the chief danger. If you want to stay alive you need to learn how to use more caution navigating boats, retrieving birds with waders, and anything that brings you close to the water.
The gear you wear in the late season also makes a big difference. Hunting ducks and geese will cause you to get wet, you are around water constantly and sweating almost as often. Moisture plus cold creates big opportunities for hypothermia and worse. Having the right gear for the weather can make a big difference. However, none of it matters if you make even larger mistakes.
Listen to the episode to hear about the tactics and gear that can keep you safe and comfortable in some of the harshest conditions out there.
Nothing can help you bring home more ducks than setting bad habits right. You cannot spend your way out of bad habitsand no amount of gear can compensate for them. On this episode I talk about how to identify and correct some habits that will make you a better duck hunter.
All you need to do to form a bad hunting habit is nothing. Making bad habits will happen by default, breaking them takes humility and work. But there is no faster way to improve and become a more successful waterfowl hunter and breaking bad habits.
Some bad habits include:
Not Practicing – Nothing will help you take home more ducks than practicing in the office season and there is no better and more realistic way to practice than by doing a few sporting clays courses. Put some of your gear money into a practice fund.
Not Testing – Every gun, ammo, and choke may produce different and sometimes very different results. If you do not pattern test your gun every time you change something in your setup, you will not know what your performance and limitations are.
Lack of Stealth – Whether you are in a blind or on foot, stealth is vital to duck hunting. It is too easy to get careless and think you are invincible because you don’t see any ducks. But that doesn’t mean the ducks cannot see you. Do everything you can to minimize movement and keep your volume level low.
Somehow duck hunting feels different than deer or turkey hunting. The practice, sighting in, patterning, etc. that we often put into those pursuits seems specific to them. We often do not think we should apply the same diligence to duck hunting in the off season. But knowing our gear and sharpening our shooting skills matters just as much for duck hunting, possibly even more. This is a bad habit that is somewhat cultural to the sport. People assume they are proficient with their shotgun and ammo just because.
The reality is that years ago these habits were likely started by people who lived in rural areas and often hunted constantly with their shotgun. They went out after turkeys, doves, pheasants, qual, rabbits, squirrels and more. Then the next day they picked up their shotgun and went out for ducks. That worked a lot better in those kinds of situations where constant shotgun use with the same ammo produced skills that were always honed.
But today things are very different. For those few who do hunt that many things and that often, they are often using different ammunition, required by law, and thus are not as proficient with it as they might like to think. Waterfowl ammo can behave very differently. Then there are the rest of hunters who rarely pick up a shotgun and just grossly overestimate their abilities.
Listen to the episode to hear more about these and other bad habits. Here also is a video I did on the top thing you can buy to enable you to shoot more ducks.
If you have a whole day to hunt ducks, why only hunt them in the morning? The truth is you can cram three unique duck hunts into a single day if you live in the right area. On this episode I talk about how to do everything possible to take home a limit of ducks over the course of a day.
The morning hunt is the traditional one that most people identify with, sitting in a blind with decoys out in front and calling birds in. This is a great way to hunt, and effective in many places if you’ve done your scouting. But it is far from the only way. This is likely the best way to start the day though. Get out early and try to bring home a limit of ducks early.
The mid-day hunt takes on a different form. Once you have packed things up and gotten something to eat, you can run and gun, cover ground, and work to sneak up on birds on ponds, streams, and other bodies of water. This can be just as effective if you know the water in your area and have put together a good circuit.
The evening hunt is your last chance but it provides a good chance to get it done. The premise here is you have a whole day to hunt and do not want to go home empty handed or shorthanded. Hunting at the end of the day can be just as productive as any other time.
Listen to the episode to hear about all 3 hunting strategies for an all-day hunt.
Jump hunting ducks can be tons of fun, inexpensive, and a great way to use the middle of the day to bring home some birds. On this episode I share 7 keys for being more successful hunting ducks on foot.
Jump hunting is the practice of trying to sneak up on ducks to get “the jump” on them. It involves stealth with the intent to get into position and then ambush birds on the water or flush them and to shoot them out of the air.
Hunting ducks on foot dates back to the dawn of duck hunting. It is both challenging and effective and enables you to bring home ducks while requiring only minimal gear and time spent scouting.
Your goal is to get as close to the birds as possible before taking a shot, within 30 yards is the target. It is easy to underestimate the distance, in fact most people do. So, you must get closer than what seems necessary, especially since birds will instantly flush and move further away from you the moment you are detected.
Using terrain to close that distance is key, this will help you avoid being seen or heard by the ducks. Another key factor is wind. Wind creates noise and motion in the woods, masking you approach. Then if you move when the wind blows you can become nearly invisible.
When shooting at birds on the water you want a long-range range setup, ideally with a very tight choke tube and denser than steel shot. I like to use an extra full choke with bismuth shells. Steel can work just great at short to medium range but it loses a lot of power at long range. Bismuth retains energy further out enabling you to hit harder at range.
Similar to turkey hunting, your goal is to hit the ducks in the head and neck so you want a very tight pattern with a lot of pellets. Bismuth #4 shot is ideal. HEVI XII in #6 works even better but is much more expensive. Consider carrying a handful of high-grade shells and a tighter choke just for these kinds of hunts.
Note, you do not want to use actual turkey loads and chokes because then you will not be able to shoot birds when they flush. But that kind of setup can work ok shooting geese on the water or the ground due to their long neck.
Listen to the podcast episode for all of the tips.
As the seasons progress so does duck hunting, in fact each period of the duck season requires different strategies and focus points to be as effective as possible. On this episode I talk about the different phases of the duck season and what is unique about hunting during each of them.
Duck season can be divided into three phases in many states.
Early Season – This is when things are warm and green. You are primarily hunting local ducks or early migrators.
Core Season – This is what you often see on TV, the migration is on, and birds are flying through on a regular basis looking for places to stop and rest.
Late Season – The water is freezing up and ducks become more and more concentrated on open water.
Each phase of the season requires unique strategies to get the most out of it.
Are you at risk every time you walk into the woods hunting ducks, geese, doves, turkeys, and pretty much anything with a gun? Are you suffering irreparable damage to your hearing on every hunt? The sad answer is yes, but there is a way to stay safe and protect both your hearing and your future. We are going to dive into that and more on this episode!
Duck hunters know there are risks with firearms, deep water, and the elements but there are other dangers they face every time they walk into the woods. It is not just a danger of something that could happen, this is happening on every hunt to every hunter unless they do something to protect themselves. And that is hearing loss caused by firearms use.
To help me talk about the problem and the solution I have Bill Dickenson with me today, Dr. of Audiology, Lifelong hunter, fellow believer and founder ofTetra Hearing, a company that may be doing more than any other to change the lives of hunters young and old.
Hearing loss from hunting is kind of like radiation exposure, sometimes the ill effects are immediate but more often they are cumulative over time, slowly creeping up until you realize you have big health issues. And the issues go far beyond just not being able to hear as well, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
The only good thing about a terrible hunt is when you can learn from it and help other people avoid what happened to you. On this episode I talk about the worst duck hunt of my life and how I wish I had known the answer to a very important question before I went into the woods: how do you humanely and quickly dispatch a live duck that makes it into your hands?
No matter how much you practice, how tight your choke tube, or how good your ammunition, there will be times when you wound or cripple a duck that needs finished off. The hunter’s goal should be to kill the duck as quickly and humanely as possible to minimize suffering and ensure the duck does not get away for prolonged suffering.
Not knowing how to do this led me through a traumatic series of events that became the worst duck hunt of my life. Had I heard this simple podcast episode first, it would have saved me so much trouble and saved a duck much more suffering as well.
So much goes into a duck call, but what makes it sound good to ducks? On this episode I interview a duck call maker, hunter, musician and fellow podcaster to better understand what goes into a duck call, what really matters in the field, and how you can navigate the marketing clutter to find a duck call that is right for you.
The main goal of a duck call is to sound like a duck. It’s that simple. But most duck calls are judged by how well hunters can play them as musicians. Duck calling competitions are marvels of skill and experience, but they often sound far from what a real duck is like.
Sometimes real ducks make calls that hunters would consider quite lousy but that is because our perception can be skewed. There is another truth though that sometimes ducks do respond well to sounds that real ducks just do not make. Be it instinct or curiosity, you can have some success hunting ducks with calling sounds or sequences that do not exist in nature.
But for the new hunter, duck calling can be a rather simple affair. The goal of this episode is to talk through some of the feature and marketing of duck calls to help you discern what kinds of calls are right for you and what is worth spending your money on.
Riley is not a sponsor and I get no kickbacks, but at my request he agreed to give a 10% discount to all New Hunters Guide listeners. Just go to his websitehttps://rylohgamecalls.comand use the code nhgcast at checkout for the 10% discount.
Every duck hunter needs a choke tube, and it is only a matter of time before you become obsessed with finding the best one. But it doesn’t need to be that complicated or intense. On this episode I talk about the basics of finding the right choke tube and I share some high-level research-based insights.
Almost all shotguns have changeable choke tubes these days. What not many people are willing to admit is that most of them will do the job just fine for hunting ducks at regular distances of 30 yards. But there are some gains to be made with finding higher quality chokes and matching them to the distance you take shots at.
Some chokes are made for certain types of shells, and some are made for specific shells themselves. My research hasn’t proven either way if they really can engineer chokes better for a specific shell, but you can count on choke manufactures having tested those shells heavily so the risk of the choke not performing with them is minimal.
Do aftermarket choke tubes improve performance? According to my firsthand field testing, they absolutely do, with some guns and some stock chokes. Stock recessed or flush chokes can often be replaced with extended aftermarket chokes for improved performance. But many of the high-end shotguns come with stock chokes just as good as aftermarket ones.
People are obsessed with tighter and tighter patterns these days, and that sounds good, and it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. But we want to eat our ducks, and blasting them to shreds is not better. Ultimately you want a pattern that helps you consistently and reliably get clean kills so the birds do not suffer and are not lost, but not so tight that it destroys all edible portions of the bird.
Listen to the podcast episode for all the details!
Duck hunting is a gear intensive sport and getting that gear to the field is a hurdle that every hunter needs to navigate. On this episode I talk about 5 different levels of gear and the main options for getting your equipment into the field for each. I also highlight different ways of hunting and moving gear which should help inform new and experienced hunters alike.
Extra Heavy Gear Hunting – Gear at this level either needs left in the field or brought in by vehicle, it is beyond what the hunters can bring into the woods under their own power. When you see hundreds of duck decoys, or large goose spreads, this is the only option.
Heavy Gear Hunting – This is the upper range of what individuals can somehow lug to their hunting spot. Often they are using multiple jet sleds, farm carts, or boats to get it in.
Medium Gear Hunting – What the average hunter is able to bring into the wood solo, or what a group can bring in without great effort. The is what most hunters are doing. This often involves what can practically be taken in on a single sled or cart.
Light Gear Hunting – What the average hunter can carry on their back without any mechanical aid. This usually consists 6-12 decoys and only the bare essentials. You would most often hunt this way if you have to cover a lot of ground,
Little to No Gear Hunting – This is for hunting on foot, moving throughout the day, usually with 0-2 decoys. This will enable you to go deep into the woods and access locations you could not get to laden down with gear.
Most Common Tools Used
Jet Sled – These are heavy duty, super durable sleds designed for farm work and other rigorous activities. They can be used to drag or float hundreds of pounds of gear across just about anything at any time of year.
Farm Cart– These wide wheelbase carts can make it possible to transport excessive weight with ease, as long as it is across relatively even surfaces.
Open Top Kayak– Almost nothing is going to be easier than paddling into a location and floating your heavy gear in, provided of course you have the water, locations, vehicles, and equipment needed to make this option work.
Listen to the episode to hear the options for bringing the gear for each level into the woods.