Duck, duck, goose

October hunting has arrived.

Make sure you check duck/goose season dates, bag limits and species before heading out, but in the Western Zone for New York state, the season begins Oct. 15.

The youth waterfowl weekend is this weekend.

While the special early waterfowl youth season is early this year, these hunts often involved uneducated local birds willing to commit to any spread. They are a great time to get youth into waterfowl hunting.

It’s incredible how fast ducks and geese get wise to hunting pressure. A true credit to the resilience of nature, these birds often change daily patterns immediately with the first sign of hunting and become reluctant to land anywhere.

Hunters can up their odds in a number of ways. Staying concealed is always the first order of business when waterfowl hunting, and accurate gunning is a key component to putting birds on the strap. First, however, ducks and geese must buy what we’re selling, and decoys are central to this grand scheme of deception.

Along with good calling, it’s decoys that catch the attention of the birds we hunt. Moments later, the same decoys convince the birds to take a better look. And, in the end, it’s our decoys that bring our quarry, feet-down, into gun range.

Today’s decoys are some of the most realistic ever manufactured, but there’s more to sealing the deal than seductive poses and pretty paint. The real key to decoy effectiveness isn’t their individual appearance, it’s their overall look.

We all want our decoys to look like real birds. When scouting, try to take pictures of birds in the field you’re hunting. This will allow you to see the numbers, locations and positions of individual birds. By studying these pictures, you can base your decoy spreads on the photos.

Early season groups of geese usually contain numerous small family groups that often land and feed on their own. Decoy spreads should match, with small clumps of a half-dozen decoys spaced throughout a field.

This is the time of year when feeding is heaviest, as geese are hitting numerous food sources and packing on the pounds while the weather allows. Our job is to mimic live birds in the area with our decoys. A tighter spread indicates a lot of food, while an open and scattered spread indicates less. When representing feeding birds, use a higher number of feeding, head-down decoys than you normally would.

The overall look of an individual decoy is largely determined by its design, manufacturing process and finish. These variables are, perhaps, most important in the early season.

With a lot of sun in the early season, and the light dew around dawn, a painted decoy will shine as the sun comes up. This immediately educates geese and one of the main reasons they flare at the last minute.

While the ultimate goal is to set your blocks on “the X” — that spot on the spot where birds always seem to want to land — that’s not always possible. When we can’t be right on the mark, two other decoy sets fool birds.

The right decoy spread in the right location can cause passing ducks and/or geese to change their plans. We have used recently what we call a high traffic set to bring in birds traveling between their roost and primary feeding grounds. The main key to this set is utilizing fully flocked decoys. The whole idea is creating a set-up with decoys that mimicking a group of birds on a hot-feed. This is fairly simple; just use a larger number of tightly-spaced decoys. The spread employs mostly feeding poses along with a single, head-up sentry.

To consistently score on ducks, a realistic decoy set-up is just as crucial. Ducks can come and go quickly. Not so much on opening morning, but it will not take long before the birds you are hunting will be seeing multiple decoy spreads.

Decoy placement is important, especially as it relates to shooting angles for each hunter in the blind. To maximize your safe shooting, each shooter must know his shooting lane and stay in it. This can be difficult with folks that have wing shooting experience but it’s a must for a safe hunt. Having guided waterfowl hunters for three decades now, I understand how uncomfortable it can be to tell a hunter he is not following blind rules by staying in his lane. In the long run, we will safely and successfully hunt.

We call the shot on finishing birds crossing, not facing. One of the ways you can make this happen starts with your decoy spread. Utilize clumps of decoys, spaced with numerous landing holes in between. Make every attempt to set your blind so you are in a crosswind set-up, so landing birds approach from left to right or right to left, rather than directly toward you. This focuses the birds on the decoys, rather than on the hunters. Do it right, and as the birds settle into the landing zones, each hunt will have their fair share of shooting opportunities.

To prolong opening-day success levels for weeks to come, take a lesson from the birds. Focus on what’s most important to them. And remember, all eyes are on the decoys.

All seasoned waterfowl hunters will tell you to be successful throughout the season two things, don’t over shoot your blind and have multiple hunting spots.

Ducks and geese are traveling this time of year and their focus is on feeding. When they start their migration, they need a fat reserve, this is why they fatten up before they start their trip south. It doesn’t take long for a food source to feed out with a few dozen birds hitting it a few days in a row.

For this reason, work on getting as many hunting spots as possible. Just as spring gobbler hunters hunt many spots in an attempt to not educate the gobblers, waterfowl hunters need to be mobile as the season progresses.

Always be safe and make sure before you head out, have all the proper New York state licenses and stamps. Waterfowl is a federally protected species and you don’t want to have any problems with the feds when they come knocking.


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