Here is a look at the way it really works for what is probably a majority of Idaho duck hunters. Originally published in the Idaho Outdoor Digest 24 years ago, there are a few dated details but the essentials remain pretty much the same.
My buddy, Steve, and I are average Idaho guys who like to duck hunt. We don’t have lots of money to buy the best equipment, don’t seem to get around to practicing our shooting enough in the summer, and don’t have time to go as often as we would like. Most of all, we don’t have a dog – which really limits where we can hunt safely.
We’ve usually hunted in the Kiefer Segment Wildlife Area on the Payette River, near New Plymouth. Why hunt there? Well, when we first decided to try waterfowling a few years ago, we didn’t have a clue where to go. The only guy we knew who knew of a spot told us about this one, so there we were.
What all of us want to see when we wait in the duck blind, a flock of mallards looking for a comfortable spot to land.
This area is relatively close to Boise (about an hour and 20 minutes), and is easy to get around in with chest waders. That’s the good news. The bad news is that because it is close to Boise and easy to get around in with chest waders, we aren’t the only people who hunt there. In fact, it can get so crowded that you wonder how many ducks survive.
But the ducks do hang around in that area, particularly early in the season, and at opening of the second season. With all the hunting pressure, though, it doesn’t take long for the hunting to get really tough. I suspect that we’re like most Idaho duck hunters — not the semi pros who have the time and resources to find the hottest spots, be there on the right day and have exactly the right gear — but a couple of guys who like to get out and, with limited resources and knowledge, enjoy a quality hunt.
Learning to duck hunt in this kind of an area has taught us some lessons we’ve carried with us as we find better spots, and has resulted in our seldom being skunked. The reason is that when the hunting is tough, you have to concentrate on the details to make sure that you don’t screw up one of the few opportunities that you’re likely to have.
So here’s an idea of some of the tricks we’ve learned that, Steve and I agree, have enabled us to make the most of our chances. Do every one of these ideas work? It’s hard to tell, but one thing is for sure, paying attention to the details has surely improved our hunting overall.
First, we soon learned that it’s impossible not to look up at birds that are looking over the decoy spread. I don’t know how many small flocks of mallards we spooked by looking up at the wrong time. Steve would always blame me for flaring them, while I was always convinced that he was the one who had looked. The solution we found that works for us is to camo up from head to toe, including facemasks. We also take a piece of camo cloth into the blind with us to cover the shells, thermoses and other paraphernalia that’s always lying around. Then, when we spot some birds, we STAY STILL!
Decoy sets is another issue. We did a poor job for a long time. We tried the J pattern, the V pattern, the inverted J, etc., all without a lot of success. There were some details that we were forgetting, though, that seemed to make more of a difference than the pattern of the spread. What we learned is that, with the Payette fairly shallow and clear, the strings on our decoys were visible from the air. We got a tip from a duck hunting video where a guy suggested using monofilament line as decoy strings. We’re now using fishing line, and it seems to work better. We also found that we were putting some of the dekes far too close to the blind. Leaving some space between the blind and the closest decoys seemed to cause fewer flaring birds. We also found that spending five minutes every couple of hours taking the weed off of the keels of the decoys seemed to help. Finally, we always try to set at least one of the decoys right at 40 yards from the blind. Even in the excitement of birds coming in, this gives us a good benchmark for when they are in range.
As far as shooting goes, Steve and I are not consistently great shots. Oh, we have our moments, but over the course of a season we probably make more bad shots than good ones. Since losing wounded birds ruins our day (I’m sure it’s not much fun for the duck either), we learned to always shoot twice at the first bird that we drew down on. This resulted in a far higher percentage of clean kills — and after all, we’re not there to do maximum damage to the duck population.
We tried all kinds of shot (remember that this was when lead was still allowed on the Payette), and found that lead #4’s worked best for us. I use an old pump 12 gauge, and Steve has a 20 — both of which worked just fine. I got a wild hair once and bought a box of magnums, which didn’t seem to make much difference except that I thought my shoulder had been hit with a baseball bat. With steel, however, it’s a whole new ball game — and we’re still learning what works best for us.
One strategy that kept us from getting skunked more than once was getting to the blind early enough that we were in place, all set up, and quiet about 20 minutes before shooting time. This would allow some time for things to quiet down, and we occasionally had our first shooting within a few minutes of sunrise.
The Less Than Hot Spots
We learned one final trick that helped make our day more often than not. After a long day in the blind, sometimes with nothing to show for it, we found a canal on the way home where we could stop and spend an hour jump shooting. We always went to the same place, and learned where the ducks liked to hang out. I can’t tell you how many times the couple of ducks we picked up out of that canal were the only ones we took home.
The bottom line is that I like to read about the hottest duck hunters in the hottest spots with the hottest equipment on the hottest days. Unfortunately, the hunting opportunities that Steve and I get never seem to be like that. So if you’re like us, and find yourself in one of Idaho’s “less than hot spots,” pay attention to the details and you’ll still have a great and productive time.
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Copyright 2014 by Peter Fischer