There’s a reason National Football League coaches harp on the turnover differential in postgame press conferences. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, how great your game plan is, how much better your players are than theirs; if you repeatedly make mistakes in critical situations, you’re going to lose the game.
The same is true in duck hunting. You might have spent the offseason cleaning your decoys, patterning various shells and ordering every article of clothing in the L.L. Bean catalog.
You might have plunked down three-months’ salary for a new lease, and bought a mud boat that can run through Saharan sand, but if you make just one or two mistakes on game day, your straps will be a whole lot lighter than they should be.
Take it from Bill Lake.
Better known as a successful fishing guide in the marshes of southern Terrebonne Parish, Lake is also an avid duck hunter who targets the birds on his lease in the Bayou Black/Gibson area.
He says too many hunters don’t pay close enough attention to where they construct their duck blinds. Lake and his lease mates will spend hours staring into the skies on days when they’re not hunting.
“We try to establish flyways where the ducks are passing daily,” Lake said.
But learning those migration routes is only part of the puzzle. Lake also observes favored locations of a type of waterfowl, a bird that’s not a duck.
“We look to set up near heavy vegetation where the coots gather, since ducks prefer to land and feed with the coots,” he said. “There’s nothing better than live coot decoys. Safety in numbers, I guess.”
Lake and his lease mates are so dependent on coots, called “poul d’eau” by most Louisiana hunters, they don’t shoot them so that the birds don’t get spooked off the lease.
“We set up our blinds on the perimeter of the heavy vegetation, and we shoot the ducks coming and going from the coots,” Lake said.
Likewise, Brent Roy is a noted fishing guide who swaps his vented short-sleeved shirts for heavy winter camo this time of year. His day job is putting clients on speckled trout and redfish in the marshes near Venice, but much of his hunting comes in the thick timber of Arkansas and Missouri.
Up there, as in most flooded timber areas, hunters believe, in order to attract ducks, they have to sound like a mariachi band that just won’t leave your table no matter how much you tip them.
“The number one mistake people make is calling too much, especially where I hunt in the timber,” Roy said. “The ducks just don’t make that much noise when they’re resting in the woods.”
Roy prefers to tease the ducks with some soft calling to get them keyed into the general location, and then he lets his decoys do the work.
Roy’s experience transfers easily to Louisiana hunters taking to flooded woodlands, and those same rules apply to the marsh, of course, but there’s an even more problematic error many south Louisiana marsh hunters make, Roy said, and it’s one that has become part of the duck-hunting culture.
“The biggest mistake marsh hunters make is riding through the ducks in mud boats,” he said. “They’re scaring the birds off. I know it’s essential to scout, but bring binoculars and stay away from the rafts of ducks.”
Hunters who ride through birds may be excited by what they see, but they’ll be terribly disappointed when they set up in those areas for their next hunt, Roy said.
“Once ducks see and hear a mud boat or airboat, they leave and don’t return to that area, in my opinion,” he said.
That, unfortunately, will leave hunters feeling like they fumbled the ball on the one-yard line.