With warm weather and little bird movement on the East Coast this season, it’s been hard to stay optimistic. But Christmas is around the corner, and with it a gift. Temperatures are supposed to drop this weekend, especially in the northern staging grounds that have held steady duck numbers since September.
“Winter is poised to move south into mid-latitudes of the Mississippi Flyway and Great Lakes region in the Atlantic,” reports Longpoint Waterfowl,”and with it bring an abundance of ducks to waiting hunters at more southern latitudes.”
Some of that movement has already been reported. Hunters in Western Massachusetts have spotted big flocks of mallards this week. Along the Atlantic coast down through Long Island oldsquaw and diver numbers are up, especially mergansers and buffleheads. This week on a buffie hunt near Block Island Sound I witnessed more black ducks in an afternoon than I’ve seen so far this season. Geese are nearly everywhere, too. With an off corn crop this summer, many famers harvested late or simply walked away from failed fields, so there’s plenty of food and not much weather to push birds out.
Despite the poor conditions for most of the flyway this season, hunters in upstate New York and the Finger Lakes region have done well. Many birds moved off Canadian molting grounds and into New York State early, and simply haven’t left. But the warm weather and lots of open water has made the hunt challenging for some. “My taxidermist says I’m the only guy killing birds,” said Avery Pro Staffer Arliss Reed, who hunts upstate and western New York. “But I don’t know if I believe him.”
Reed is one of my few contacts this season who always has a good hunt story for me. Last weekend he took out a new hunter Juanita Russell and they did quite well, with a five-man limit on ducks and several geese, as you can see in the photo. “The first duck that came up, her first shot ever at a flying animal, and she shot a hen mallard – first duck ever, first wingshot ever,” Reed said. “Then she shot a double. Hers was the left and she shot it, no one shot the bird on the right, so she wheels around and dropped it. Two drake mallards.”
Russel has thrown herself full-bore into hunting over the last two years. “The hunt was amazing,” she said. “I liked building the blind, getting everything in there, setting the decoys. I loved everything about it. I would do it every single day it was so awesome.” She’s going out again, next weekend, to celebrate her 26th birthday.
If you’re planning on chasing ducks this weekend, or have some holiday time off coming up, remember the basics and you’ll kill more ducks:
1. Scouting. “Scouting is the foundation of shooting ducks,” Reed said. “If you have some vacation time coming up, skip a morning of hunting and scout.” Many weekends Reed sleeps in Saturday, and then drives around later in the morning looking for fields and marshes holding birds. “It’s better to have one good hunt than two bad hunts,” he said.
2. Concealment. “Birds have been hunted, they’re educated, so you have to hide,” he said. If you’re in a spot that can’t conceal five blinds, setup two and rotate in and out.
3. Go big. This time of year birds are looking for lots of company. Especially geese. If you normally hunt 24 full-bodies, it’s time to add in the shells, or hunt with a buddy who can match your spread. “Throw everything you have at them,” Reed said.
4. Travel. The Western Zone of New York opens up next week, and Reed will be in his truck. Go where the birds are. If the area gets a lot of pressure, consider using an outfitter. “In the Finger Lakes, when it gets cold it gets good,” he said.
5. Keep Scouting. “That’s the most important thing. Birds are not going to land in your spread if there are 1,000 live birds on the ground a quarter mile away. Unless you’re running traffic with 500 decoys you need to be where the birds want to be,” he said.
Merry Christmas, and good luck out there.