By: Shane Smith
In Southwest Arkansas, the duck hunt season usually starts during the second week of November. It is the most anticipated day of the year for a lot of duck hunters in the area. However, the opener is usually overshadowed with crowded boat ramps, low duck harvests and people who have no hunting ethics or respect. These issues, among many others, will play out in every state and every opening day somewhere in duck country. However, there are a few things you can do to put things in your favor for the early season. Let’s go through them:
- Scouting – This is the most important aspect of a successful early season waterfowl hunt. Be willing to walk further and go places that are hard to reach to ensure you beat the crowds. Most of the easy-to-reach spots will be packed and look like a matchbox with hunters elbow-to-elbow.
- Decoys – Match the Flight – In the early season I always try to keep my spread as realistic as possible. Where I hunt in the Ark-La-Tex, we have very few mallards early. So I usually run 12 gadwall, 12 teal, 6 wigeon, 6 woody and 6 mallards. All of my decoys are Avian-X. As the season progresses, I transition more mallards and pintails, and even goose decoys, to match what is flying at that time.
- Calling – This time of year you can get away with A LOT of calling. If it suits your hunting style, hammer down on the birds. I usually blow the Zink ATM Double Reed in the woods or cypress breaks, and the Zink NBG Single Reed in open water or rice field applications. I normally start off calling a lot, and if I am not getting the response I want from the birds, I tone it down or stop calling all together.
- Motion – For the opener and early season I use as much motion as I can get away with. It doesn’t matter if it is a jerk string, wonder duck, mojo, or mallard machine, you need something putting ripples on the water making the decoys come to life. As the season progresses I will slowly phase out motion decoys to a minimum.
- Shooting – If you didn’t dove or teal hunt before the opener, you had better go shoot some clays to get yourself ready. There is nothing worse than getting a big flock in and missing because you still have rust from last year. Make your practice as realistic as possible and shoot crossing shots and incoming clays as well.
- Gear Check – For a lot of hunters, the duck boat and waders have not been out since the close of last year’s duck season. Take your rig to the lake or river and make sure it is running and fully operational. You also want to make sure your registration is current and you have all required personal flotation devices and a fire extinguisher if needed. Other things to check are hunting license, duck stamps, special permits, or anything required by law to hunt where you are. Believe me, the game wardens will be out in full force and there is no cool way to get a $300 ticket on opening day!
I hope these six short tips will help you have a better season opener and bag more birds than the other guy at the ramp.