Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Too Much of a Good Thing
When it comes to hunting waterfowl, wind is your friend...at least that's what I always thought.
My good friend, Jim Bottorff, invited me to hunt with him on a small piece of private land with a flooded field. You'd have to be nuts to refuse an offer like this. Flooded fields to mallards are like lily pads to bass; you can't keep them out. So of course I took him up on his offer and at 6 am we were driving in the dark to the field.
We readied our gear and set the decoys.
From our spot in the blind, the wind was blowing at a steady 10 MPH, directly at our faces. This is not ideal but fairly easy to remedy on a small body of water. We set the decoys in a U shape at 40 yards away. This way the ducks would approach over our heads and choose to land between us and the decoys. Jim informed me the importance of keeping a large hole for the ducks to land in breezier conditions.
With everything set in place we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful sunrise.
The first ducks to come in were a pair of wigeons. They descended exactly the way we wanted them to.
"Let's take em!" Jim shouted and we rose to accomplish our task.
Both birds fell and Bear, Jim's chocolate lab, charged out of the blind to retrieve them.
"Good girl, Bear!" Jim praised, as Bear brought the ducks into the blind and into Jim's hand.
We intently watched the skies for more birds. Occasionally we'd see a group approach and veer off without giving us a second look. I started to express some concern as the morning progressed and several groups gave us the "cold wing". It seemed the wind may be affecting them in a negative way. Jim kept up his optimism however, and before long, another small group circled and a drake mallard descended into the decoys. Jim rose and shot, giving Bear another bird to carry back to the blind.
We waited a while longer before any more birds showed interest in our location. There just didn't appear to be many birds in the area. Jim and Bear scanned the skies intently.
The hunting slowly began to pick up as the morning progressed, but so did the wind. Another gullible greenhead hit the water and immediately was blown back towards us, giving Bear a short retrieve.
One by one we began to add greenheads to our stringer.
As fun as it was to get a duck every half hour, we wanted to see more birds working our decoys. The wind had picked up even more and was easily blowing 15 MPH, with gusts over 20. Our small, flooded field looked like the ocean with 3 foot rollers. Not exactly enticing to birds looking to feed and loft out of the wind.
"I think we better move the decoys out further. Maybe another 15 yards. When the wind is blowing like this, it's always best to give them plenty of room to land. They don't like being cramped." Jim said with certainty.
"Ok I'll go move them. Get ready, because as soon as I step out of the blind, the birds will start pouring in!" I said, referring to the dozens of times that has happened to me.
No birds approached as I was moving the decoys, but as soon as I got back into the blind, a pair came in and met their fate. Bear made a couple of wonderful retrieves.
The next hour produced several more birds. It seemed that moving the decoys had paid off. Birds were giving us a little better look.
It was nearly noon now and we had 9 birds on our stringer. We were talking about calling it a day when a single mallard snuck in and tried to land. We both rose and shot, bringing down a hen. We decided that was a great place to end our hunt.
We packed up our gear and the decoys, and laid the birds out for some photos. It had been a fun hunt, but not a terribly easy one. The wind had been too strong, changing our flooded field from an inviting duck oasis to a hostile desert. By moving the decoys further out and opening up the "pocket" we made the ducks feel a little better about landing. I always thought wind was a good thing, but on this day, it was too much. In super windy conditions, remember to open things up a bit and you'll likely see more success.