Down the River for Ducks

Stealth strategies that will get you more shots.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The best way to beat the duck hunting crowds is by float hunting. It's also very effective during cold snaps that freeze swamps and ponds. But there's more to it than just pointing a canoe downstream. You need some style, or all you'll see is the wrong end of flushed birds with few chances to pull the trigger.

**Quiet Down **
It all starts with the proper craft. The quietest canoes are made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, a common material for durable, general-purpose boats. (Royalex is a familiar brand of it.) Fiberglass is next best, as long as your stretch of stream is free of hull-shredding rapids. Far worse are aluminum canoes, which hang up easily on rocks and often make you sound as if you're paddling a tambourine. If you must float in a metal boat, dampen the decibels by lining it with outdoor carpeting or old carpet samples. No matter what you paddle, soundproof the rest of your gear: zipper pulls, pockets full of shells, even the tiny metal tabs on glove cuffs will produce clinks and clanks loud enough to send a preening pintail scrambling.

Float hunting is a two-man game-a paddler in the stern and a shooter in the bow-and it requires close communication. To stay stealthy, agree on simple hand signals for "ducks ahead," "ducks on left," "ducks on right," "move right," "move left," and "holy smokes, there's a whole flock of 'em!" **Become Invisible **
Camouflage is crucial, especially gloves and face nets. Brush up the bow of the boat with a few sprigs of grass or evergreen boughs (don't overdo it or the paddler won't be able to see).

Once you're as drab as mud, you can tackle the paddle gunner's other consternation: movement. You can't get the drop on a greenhead using canoeing strokes you learned in summer camp. Instead, do the scull stroke: After you complete a stroke, turn the blade parallel to the boat and bring it slowly forward without lifting it from the water. And learn to paddle from one side of the canoe. Nothing says danger to a duck like a floating log that suddenly turns into a windmill whenever you switch sides.

Get Ready
Knowing how ducks use rivers will help you see them in time to plan an approach. Often your best shots will come at sharp turns in the stream. The birds also tend to raft up behind fallen trees and trapped debris. Many times I've seen a limit's worth of wood ducks explode into the air after I passed a tangle of downed branches. Creek mouths are prime loafing spots, so approach them with the canoe held tightly to the bank and the bow gunner ready. It also pays to paddle up tributaries, off-channel beaver ponds, and swamps, which often hold a load of ducks. Flush them from their hidey hole, and they might just pitch in downstream-which is where you're headed.

Work the Bends
The slow water on the far side of stream bends is a magnet for ducks, but these hard turns present a challenge for gunners faced with difficult shooting angles and a tipsy seat. Set up the shot by approaching with the canoe tucked close to the inside bank. Then, just before the bow clears the bend, the paddler uses sharp pry strokes to swing the stern of the boat toward the middle of the stream. The good news: The ducks will jump straight ahead. The bad news: The shooter has no excuses.