By Capt. Chris Martin
December 13, 2015
I duck hunt with a lot of people each year, and probably the most popular question I’m often asked is, “What do you consider to be one of the key factors to success when duck hunting along the Texas Gulf coast?” The response I give folks is generally always the same, “Over the years, I’ve found two specific things to be mandatory in order for me to conduct successful hunts on a regular basis. The first is the practice of scouting.” And there are several things I like to tell people to do to make certain the results of their scouting efforts turn out prosperous for them in the end. First and foremost on the list is my recommendation for hunters who are scouting to stay as far away from the crowds as possible when they are looking for their “ideal” hunting spot. My thought process there is that if you happen to setup in an area that is closely surrounded by several other shooting blinds, not only are you constantly running the risk that the birds may be scared away at any given moment upon their approach into your spread, but even more importantly is the fact that the birds are probably going to look elsewhere for a place to rest. We’ve all heard that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? Well, the same holds true with the birds. So next time you’re out scouting for a place to hunt, make it a point to focus on those places in which the birds happen to be feeding, and take note of the time of the day that the birds are feeding. Having that information today might very well enable you to be in the right place at the right time tomorrow.
Another valuable thing to take into account when scouting is the direction in which the birds tend to fly whenever they get spooked or whenever they get shot at. Once you’ve determined that direction you can focus the remainder of your scouting in that same direction. I also like splitting my scouting day in half, spending a couple hours of the day just after sunrise, and then another couple hours just prior to sunset to examine the birds and their activities, making mental notes of the evening flight paths to the roosting spots. Each day is different, and each day will call for its own plan, so the second thing that I say is mandatory for being able to conduct successful hunts on a regular basis is the ability to be mobile, and to understand the overall effect that being mobile can have on the desired outcome of the hunt.
A sometime false sense of security that a lot of hunters tend to experience occurs once they have finally acquired a particular hunting space that they have struggled for quite some time to gain access to. They have heard story after story about how this place has produced for others over the years, and they now are convinced that they will be hunting in one of the best places they could ever imagine. But they then invest their time and resources in the building of a big, permanent blind and they then, consequently, become married to that one particular spot. The duck’s behavior, however, is influenced by a number of different things like changes in the weather, food and water availability, hunting pressure in the immediate area, and a myriad of other conditions. And even though you may have managed to get what you sincerely believe to be a “prized” stationary spot, the ducks will always tend to move according to the situation at the time. This isn’t to say that I don’t still maintain a number of pit blinds and above-ground blinds, because I do. Having just such places serves as a great alternative to fall back to late in the season when attempting to shoot wary ducks that have been seeing the wrong end of a shotgun for the past couple months. But being mobile is still my preferred method of hunting throughout the early and middle part of the season. I build easy, wooden hunting benches prior to opening-day each year, and transport them and freshly-cut wolf weed which enables me to setup wherever the ducks choose to be on a daily basis. Simply put, being mobile permits me to keep up with the ducks’ migrations and movements, and allows me the ability to take the hunt to the birds, and not try to bring the birds to the hunt.
While scouting and learning to be mobile are two positive additions any hunter can make to their arsenal of aids, there are other practices that hunters can exercise as they attempt to successfully make their way through a host of other challenges presented by that of wintertime duck hunting. And probably the most common wintertime challenge associated with duck and goose hunting has to be that chances are great you will be (at some point throughout the season) exposed to some of the toughest weather conditions that the year has to offer. For our duck hunting friends to the north, this may even mean facing snow and ice on a regular basis. But for those of us who primarily hunt the coastal regions of Texas, the likelihood of us having to endure those two variables has historically been minimized simply due to our geographic location. Our toughest wintertime elements in the coastal bend area trend toward strong winds, and occasional rain and fog, with the strong winds getting my vote as being the toughest weather element we have to contend with on any given day. Coastal hunters in our area have to understand how these windy conditions can often affect the ducks and must then know which strategies to put in place that will enable them to overcome the hardships of the strong winds.
For several years now, I have maintained the belief that the sometimes strong wintertime winds that we are forced to deal with here along the Texas coast tend to help make it easier for us to bring the ducks in over our spreads. But the only time that statement holds any truth for us, however, is on those occasions when we have been successful in positioning ourselves and our spread in the right place during the actual period of the strong winds. As stated earlier, I like being mobile in my duck hunting endeavors. At particular times, this has placed me on the edge of a big open bay or on the side of an extremely large back lack area where I’ve witnessed wintertime frontal passage winds blow in excess of 40 or 50 miles per hour on occasion, racking up surface water waves similar in appearance to those of the Gulf. Now then, under normal weather conditions at night, it’s not uncommon for the ducks to sit out on a main body of open water bunched up in rafts. Then, as the morning dawn approaches, the ducks will usually venture out off of the main body of water in search of food and will start making their way back later during the mid-hours of the morning. But when strong winds begin blowing their absolute hardest, the ducks almost immediately begin looking for areas of shelter where they can escape the harshness of the winds and where they can relax for the remainder of the day.
So, whenever the ducks run for shelter from the wind, so do I. And due to the amount of advanced technology available today, it is only a hope of mine that I am able to plan my hunt so as to be in a protected area ahead of the ducks coming to the realization that they need to be there as well. There’s a lot of land that’s just barely above sea level where we hunt, but there is the occasional sand dune or clump of thick marsh grass or bushes that can provide ample cover for you right against the bank of the water in many instances. So whenever the wind starts blowing I start looking for just such places on the leeward side of small inlets, coves, or back lakes. Any amount of calm water at that point will do nothing but invite the ducks to light in your deeks, and often without even a second thought.
In these heavy wind instances like this weekend, I always use less decoys than I would normally, only tossing out about 20 to 30 at a time instead of 50 or 60. And because it seems as though I don’t need to do as much convincing in the face of a strong wind, I also call less whenever it’s really windy. I’ve found that if I give them one really good call while they’re passing, they’ll generally turn-in and I don’t have to coax them any further. And then there are the days when you don’t have to call them at all in order to have them drop by for a visit. But, those days are few and far between. Happy hunting and Happy Holidays to all…!