Hunting early season waterfowl is tough. Local birds are quick to detect changes on their home turf making good blinds an immediate priority. The urge to migrate is softened by warm weather and plenty of food making the birds less likely to work to a call. And if you’re at all like me, your skills needed a little tune-up after a long off-season. Lucky for us the only way to get better at duck hunting is to go often, read the birds and adjust your approach accordingly.
I dedicated 4 days last week to chasing ducks. Spending more time on the water let me hone my calling, try out a few new decoy strategies and learn how to hunt from my new 16 foot boat.
The first hunt of the week was on a big lake near Brighton, MI. My buddy saw a bunch of mallards while bass fishing earlier in the week. When some rain moved in the ducks stacked up in a shallow water area adjacent to a river mouth. Our plan was to hide the boat in a wooded shoreline, set some mallard blocks, turn on the mojos and each shoot a limit. With the amount of ducks we saw as we motored out to the spot I was convinced that this hunt was going to be awesome. The first few flocks circled but wouldn’t commit so we quickly tweaked the decoys and the blind.
The ducks were flaring at the sight of the boat. We picked up branches from the lake bed to blend the blind into the shoreline. We moved the mojos away from the boat and out into the spread. This transferred the birds attention away from the blind and onto a landing zone. The adjustments did the trick. Within a few minutes a pair of grebes swam into the spread. They took off minutes later when the flocks of mallards started floating in and the shooting began. We easily could have had 4 or 5 mallards but packed up the decoys with only one duck in the boat. I can’t improve everything at once. Tuning up the shooting skills would have to wait until the weekend.
Encouraged by a little success I took a couple days off and headed north to Alpena, MI, for a long weekend of duck hunting. Saturday and Sunday mornings were both gorgeous, frosty and sunny. Dozens of mallards, teal and wood ducks were roosting in the back corner of my favorite marsh on Beaver Lake at Lost Lake Woods Club. Getting close to them meant hunting with the sun right in our faces. This is usually a deal breaker. But the combination of fog and sun made for a memorable backdrop, some cool pics and a decent amount of cover helping us to bag 5 ducks in that spot between the two mornings.
We had mallards cutting through the fog to land in our little decoy spread. There really is nothing better than hearing the wings above your head then watching as a big drake cupped up and dropping simply materializes in the fog. We only used 11 decoys: 4 sleeping mallards, a couple feeder butts, 4 wood ducks and the mojo. Zeus kept his eyes on the skies as the fog slowly lifted and the birds got up and starting moving around.
The northern birds are working to the call better than their down-stater cousins. This big drake cut into our marsh about a quarter of a mile south of the decoys. I got his attention with a short 4-5 note hail cadence. When he turned and locked on the mojo it only took a few single raspy quacks and a rolling feed chuckle to bring down the landing gear. With our faces painted and tucked into the natural cover he never saw us. I dumped him only 15 yards from our makeshift sunny blinds.
Monday evening my Dad and I headed out the south side of Hubbard Lake. A variety of birds were using the area to roost and feed so we mixed some widgeon and pintails into the mallard spread. I should have packed the diver decoys. A fair number of redheads, buffies and ringnecks flushed off the water as we pulled the boat into the weeds along the West Branch River. Obviously experiencing some hunting pressure these ducks weren’t too interested in the call or the spread. We got some shooting at a flock of speeding ring-necks to keep the afternoon interesting.
Good luck this week. Make sure to say hi if you see me and Zeus in the bingo at Harsen’s Island on Saturday morning.