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Forecast Your Duck Hunting Season
Extreme cold is both a blessing and bane. When shallows ice over, ducks concentrate in remaining areas of open water. Caloric intake must increase to compensate for lower temperatures, so twice-daily feeding becomes the norm. At temperatures below 20 degrees, you’ll start noticing afternoon feeding flights in addition to the usual predawn movements. Unfortunately, freezing weather also makes boat travel more difficult and tests one’s ability to withstand winter’s cold. Hunters must cope with the frigid temperatures in order to be successful.
Part of that coping is knowing where water will be open in freezing temperatures. This may be in the main body of a creek or river where currents prevent ice-up; in a sheltered backwater area protected by levees or high banks; or in shallow green-timber flats that receive some current from adjacent streams.
One area some duck hunters often hunt is in the bend of a small bayou. When the water’s up, it runs across the inside bend of timber. This creates a three-acre sanctuary of unfrozen water right in the middle of the frozen pin-oak bottoms. During winter’s worst weather, it’s wall-to-wall ducks.
Most avid duck hunters work unfrozen river channels during frigid weather. They boat the river until they scare up a flock of ducks, then they move in and set up where the ducks flushed. Often, duck decoys are set in strings at the edge of willows, high banks and other sheltered spots. The boat is hidden in cover with a camouflage net stretched over it. The duck hunters stand in waders next to trees. The ducks they flushed will soon return, and when they do, the fun begins.
Snowstorms & Fog
When visibility is limited by fog or heavy snow, duck callers have a field day. In this situation, it pays to keep your call sounding whether you see ducks or not. Poor visibility may keep most ducks grounded, but those that are caught en route automatically set their flaps and start listening for friendly duck calls. Few duck hunting moments are as exciting as hearing unseen mallards answering a call in fog.
Cold alone won’t drive ducks from an area where food is plentiful, but if snow gets several inches deep or becomes glazed with ice, ducks must move elsewhere to find their groceries.
Here again, it pays to know where ducks are likely to go when conditions get bad. If woods remain open and acorns are plentiful, ducks accustomed to feeding in fields may gather in flooded timber when snow piles up. Cornfields are so attractive, they may continue drawing dense concentrations of birds even when blanketed with snow. Hunting diving ducks like scaup and buffleheads often remains productive even though mallards and other dabblers have been forced to move out.
The smart waterfowler matches hunting tactics to the weather throughout the season. By applying scouting techniques and a little reasoning about duck behavior, he develops an instinct for determining where and how to duck hunt no matter what’s going on outside. Blue skies or gray, the odds are in his favor.