There are only seven more sunrises in this next in a line of 60-day duck seasons, and that’s only if you’re in the state’s Coastal and East zones. The West Zone is closed Monday.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to have ducks this season, and there are some among us who haven’t, then you might consider some changes to make your final week as successful as the first 53 days have been.
First, harken back to something Oak Grove Club’s decades-long chief guide Mike Baccigalopi said many years ago: “Birds are broken up now,” he said. “We’re starting to see more singles and doubles. Because of that, ducks will examine an area a little more closely before coming in.
“It’s better to be still in a blind than it is to bend down when you see the bird coming. Don’t move,” Baccigalopi said.
Note, too, that the ducks we’re hunting today have been called and shot at for more than four months now, and there’s a reason they’re still here — they’re wary and know what blinds and camouflaged hunters look like.
Anyone who knew Fred Parnell, God rest his soul, knew he was among the most avid Louisiana duck hunters. Mr. Fred, Louisiana’s world champion duck caller, left us with the advice about late-season hunting.”
“It’s not as important that you can call as is knowing when to call and when not to,” he said. “You’re trying to use a call to invite ducks into your decoy spread, but calling too much can be worse than not calling. You’re calling attention to your area, and ducks can see your decoys and they can see you, too. You have to ‘read’ the ducks and adjust your calling. If the birds flare off, then you’re not making the right call. Don’t over-call ducks.”
DECOYS: There are two schools of thought.
Going back to what Quentin LeBoeuf said years ago is one: “I don’t believe you can have too many decoys right now. Mix them up, too. Have a few of every bird in the area, and use the different calls of the birds you’re trying to decoy. Ducks will mix together at this time of the season.”
Veteran Fred LaBorde used his more than 60 years of duck hunting to take an opposite approach: “What most hunters forget is that ducks have seen just about everything hunters can use on them on their trip from Canada to Louisiana. That’s why we here in Louisiana have to try something a little different.
“You have to thin out your decoy spread … maybe use only a dozen or so decoys and make sure to pair them up, because ducks are pairing up now for their return to the breeding grounds,” LaBorde said, adding that spreading out the pairs of decoys to make sure there one drake and one hen within arm’s reach of one another.
“Use mallard decoys and don’t use many pintails ... use gray ducks, but make sure to pair them up, too,” he said.
BLINDS: Again, two schools of thought.
LaBorde said ducks that have set up their winter home in your area have become familiar with the place. Ducks have seen blinds, and “... they know what blinds look like and ... they know what your blind looks like,” he said.
“This is the time to get out of your blind. You can use the decoys where they are, but you have to move to the marsh grass, or that stand of roseaus (cane) or move to another spot on the levee where the ducks won’t see you,” LaBorde said. “Make sure you hide, and then see what happens. You’ll be surprised at the results.”
If you’re going to use your blind, then Parnell’s advice was to adjust the cover it provides. Make sure the cover on the blind matches the surrounding area. If it’s “green” and the recent freezes have browned surrounding vegetation, then it’s easy to understand that ducks likely will avoid your blind, no matter the decoy spread and no matter your calling ability.
Here are some of their other late-season hunting tactics:
CONFIDENCE DECOYS: Veteran hunters have learned to use egrets, herons and poule d’eau decoys around their blinds. To an interested duck, it could mean that hunters haven’t run them off. You only need one egret and/or heron decoy, and put them on opposite ends of the decoy spread, because you never see egrets or herons together.
CAMO CLOTHING: Unless you have lots of green vegetation around your blind, it’s time to consider reducing the amount of that color in your camouflage. There are more light and dark browns in the marshes, rice fields and flooded timber areas now.
COVER YOUR FACE: Make sure to cover up. Look skyward without a face covering and a wary duck will see forehead, eyes and the high points on your face — nose, cheeks and chin (ears if you wear a baseball-style cap). Either use camo paint or a face net to cover these exposed areas. Remember your hands, too. Even on warmer days, wear camo gloves to make hand movements less noticeable.
CALLING: Try mastering other calls besides the hen mallard call. Drake mallard, pintail, teal and gray duck calls work well, too. The best move is to call when the ducks are going away from you, not when they’re coming toward the blind.
HIT YOUR TARGET: Among the main woes novice hunters have is hitting and downing ducks. The reason is they are too eager. They jump from cover when the ducks are too far away and wind up trying to take ducks at ranges that exceed the “hitting” pattern of their shotguns. Forty yards is considered a maximum distance for most shotguns. With steel shot, avoid “going away” shots.
AVOID SKY-BUSTING: One way to make sure ducks will not approach your blind is to shoot when ducks are winging their way over your blind at unreachable distances. It’s a good way to call attention to your blind and to send most ducks out of your hunting area. Patience is always a good tactic now. It’s better to pass on a long shot on a single duck or a pair, with the promise that those ducks will swing back for another look and that other ducks will come closer, too.