Do you know how your gun behaves with different loads and chokes? Or the best way to close a layout blind? You would if you hunted every day of the season.
Most all waterfowl outfitters live and breath spotting birds, setting decoys, calling birds, and hunting daily. The busiest lodges are often running four to six hunts a day, and must be adaptable and ready to face most any challenge. Often guides and outfitters are seen making modifications to a spread or tweaking the cover on blinds. Everything they do is for a reason, so pay attention to these details, and don’t be afraid to ask why changes are being made. Learning from a seasoned professional can reduce your learning curve, and keep the birds muscled up in front of you wherever and whenever you hunt. Here are some proven guide tips that will help you experience greater waterfowl success.
Know Your Pattern. Few things drive waterfowl guides crazy like clients who can’t shoot accurately. A hunt is often calculated on how many incoming flights of birds may return to a specific spot to provide opportunity. When hard-working guides provide good chances to harvest birds, hunters need to be on target.
It isn’t uncommon for outfitters to have access to a clay target thrower and some patterning boards, for clients who may need a lesson on where the pattern from their shotgun is hitting. Most every shotgun and choke will shoot different shotshells differently, so taking the time to pattern your gun well before a long-awaited trip is a minor investment in time, compared to setting up and paying for a hunt.
It is surprising how many seasoned hunters have never patterned their shotgun. Take it from the pros, and know what chokes and shotshells you need to carry, to be successful under varied hunting conditions.
The Cut-Through Lane. It is always easier to decoy waterfowl when they approach directly into the wind. When birds come from upwind of your decoys, they tend to center on your spread, flying directly over blinds. When the birds do try to get into the decoys, they are often pushed out past the last string of decoys—or end up landing on the outer edge where hunters can’t get a shot. If ducks and geese can’t get to the center of your spread, create a “cut-through” lane for them to follow. Remove the decoys from a 25- to 30-foot stretch that incoming birds can use as a runway to get to the center of the decoys. The cut-through lane works especially well when winds shift during a hunt, and the incoming birds don’t center up to the shooters. Consider this smart maneuver “air traffic control” for waterfowl.
Don’t forget to use your HuntStand app to forecast wind strength and direction before you set your decoys, and blinds. Knowing that a wind switch is coming means that you’ll need to remove a few decoys for the cut-through, to get the birds to fly where you want.
Taming Bird-Spooking Shadows. The best layout blinds are great waterfowl hides, but when you close the doors on the vast majority of models, be aware that they stack one on top of the other. If this is the case with your model, know that the door closest to the sun needs to be closed first, so the second door has its edge facing the sun. Closing the doors in the proper order prevents a shadow running the length of your blind from the door overhang. Why should you care? It is usually the little details that make the biggest difference in a successful hunt. The larger the doors, the larger the bird-spooking shadows, so watch how you close the doors when the sun is shining.
Also, most A-frame style blinds throw a larger shadow when setting up perpendicular to the sun. For example, a 12-foot blind will throw a 12-foot shadow. When possible, always face the ends of your blind into the sun, to minimize the shadow cast on the ground.
If you do have a large shadow coming off your permanent blind, do not place decoys in the shade. The birds will naturally seek out the sun. And as a bonus, your decoys will show up better in the light.
The HuntStand app is the ideal tool to dictate whether you shoot morning or evening. It takes time and effort to line up a big hunt, and knowing when you have cloud cover, and some wind versus sunshine and blue sky, is always an advantage. Check the weather on your app to help you hunt the best conditions the following day.
Call Out The Over-Callers. Most all waterfowl hunters know “that guy or gal” who calls incessantly. More than one outfitter has advised listening closely to incoming birds, and moderating any calling to the same volume and frequency of the real birds. Over-calling to ducks or geese that have seen some hunting pressure can be a sure-fire way to flare them—or keep them circling well out of range.
It is difficult to tell someone when their calling is a detriment instead of a drawing tool. Honesty can be difficult, but be up front and polite when the calls are not working. I saw one outfitter ask to see his client’s call so that he could “change the pitch.” When the device was handed over, it was pitched into the water. There was an eruption of laughter, but the point was made. Make sure you know your crowd before you go as far as pitching someone’s call.
Go Big Or Go Home? When you can’t hide, don’t be afraid to be large and obvious. Blinds are critical to waterfowl hunting success. If you can’t stay hidden, you aren’t going to bag many birds. In the old days, goose hunters dug pits, and some regions still use pits and bunkers made for the entire season. Layout blinds revolutionized field hunting for waterfowl, and are still in most hunters’ arsenals for a good hide.
Stand-up blinds, A-frames, and blind trailers are becoming more popular with outfitters that are setting up and tearing down twice a day, every day. The concept is to make the hide as natural looking as possible. A rock pile, small tree lot, slough edge, or just a clump of grass and trees in a field looks natural. It might seem to your eye to be somewhat large and out of place, but the larger it is, the more natural it can look to the birds.
Ranchland Outfitters uses a 24-foot trailer that can be lowered to the frame, complete with camo covers for the tires. The large structure looks like natural grass and tree cover in a field, and is nicely mobile for day-to-day operations.
When spotting birds, be sure to log the areas the birds are landing in a field, or on water, in your HuntStand app. Note the wind and weather conditions and when conditions are ideal for a hunt, you’ll be in the prime spot. When using a big blind, you’ll always do better with natural cover on the skyline behind you. If a specific wind draws birds closer to a field edge, it will be the ideal time to set up and hunt.
Slow The Jack-In-The-Box. The anticipation of having birds decoy perfectly often has hunters springing out of their seats to shoot—and quite often, well before they should. On more than one occasion, guides have provided a friendly reminder that when one hunter is quicker at the draw than the rest of his hunting companions, only one shooter gets to target decoying birds, while the rest are shooting at wildly flaring birds.
Under ideal conditions, you want everyone in the blind to shoot at the same time, so everyone has a chance to target relaxed decoying birds. Establishing shooting lanes well ahead of time will reduce doubling up on the same birds, and the success rate for the entire crew will go up exponentially. If you have a “jack-in-the-box” in your hunting crew, ask them politely to slow down, so that everyone can enjoy the same advantage. Good luck out there.