Follow these tips for late-season duck limits

This veteran hunting guide shares his best tactics for late-season duck hunting successes.

Capt. Steve Himel

January 04, 2013 at 12:00 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Duck hunting has turned tough this season, but limits can still be had by making a few adjustments.
Capt. Steve Himel
Duck hunting has turned tough this season, but limits can still be had by making a few adjustments.
Ducks hunters across Louisiana knew this season could be a tough one, especially in Southeast Louisiana where Hurricane Isaac came through and stripped out most of the submerged aquatic vegetation that attracts and holds ducks. The first split in many areas was better than expected, especially in areas that retained some of the feed that Isaac didn’t kill or areas that had a freshwater source and were able to regenerate some feed before the ducks arrived.

Most of that feed is now gone and the second split has been bleak, with very slow hunting in most areas. Even hunting around frontal passages has been difficult.

So with several weeks left in the season, is it time to hang it up and wait for next year? For a dedicated duck hunter, the answer is “no” — but you will have to change your tactics to succeed in filling limits of these Houdini ducks!

• Lower your expectations
This can be a hard pill to swallow for many Louisiana duck hunters, who are spoiled by the masses of ducks that normally winter here. The duck hunting here is the best in the country, and the thought of not killing a limit is almost sacrilegious.

Get over it. Remember that we hunt to enjoy the entire experience, not just for the kill. You might have to settle for less than “quality” ducks species, and you may have to work harder and endure more hardship and still come home with fewer ducks. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a great time pursuing the sport of waterfowling with family and friends. And it may make you a better duck hunter.

• Hunt big water
Late in the season, ducks tend to raft up on the larger lagoons, lakes and bays. The smaller ponds that produced limits during the first split may be duck deserts, as the ducks have adapted and headed to open areas where they feel safer.

The secret is to find rafts of ducks on some of the larger lagoons or lakes in the areas where you hunt. Once you locate these, find a nearby island or point, and build a makeshift blind or hunt from available cover. Boat blinds work great in these situations, especially if you can find a small island in the middle of open water that helps break up the profile of the boat.

• Use large decoy spreads
When hunting big water in late season, you need to put out as many decoys as you can to imitate the natural tendencies of ducks to gather in large numbers as the season progresses. In big-water spreads, you will probably need to use at least 100 decoys to be effective. Decoy species and layouts are not as important as numbers.

One way to achieve very large spreads is to team up with hunting buddies, combine your decoy spreads and hunt as a group.

• Target divers
Diving ducks arrive in Louisiana later than teal and gadwalls, and are often overlooked by many duck hunters.Few hunters actually target them. When things get slow, divers can be the difference between staring at empty skies and some great late-season action.

The most plentiful divers in this area are dos gris (aka scaup), which provide a daily bag limit of four per hunter. We all know these are not the smartest of all ducks and are not quite as tasty as teal, but they can be fun to shoot and are challenging targets on the wing. Other common diver species that are often found with dos gris are ringed-neck ducks, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, redheads and (if you are lucky) canvasbacks.

When targeting divers, you should use some diving-duck species of decoys and put them out front where they can be seen from a distance. Also, if you have some old decoys, you can spray them flat black and then add two white patches on their sides to resemble a diving duck. Motion decoys also work well in getting divers into your spread.

• Putting the plan together
It is nice when a plan comes together. After killing limits of ducks on nearly every hunt during the first split, the ducks had seemed to vanish by the time the second split arrived. The only ducks on the lease were using the larger lagoons and avoiding the ponds that we were so successful in during November. Another problem was very low tides that cut us off from using many of the productive areas of the lease. I knew I had to make a change. 

The first thing I did was fill my duck boat up with cane, mung bushes and palmetto leaves, and head to a big lagoon that was located close to where I had been hunting where I had seen some small rafts of ducks during the first split. I found a point that extended into the lagoon that had deep water, and put together a makeshift blind on that point. I hoped that this would be my late-season solution.

The next day, my two guests and I arrived early and starting tossing out twice as many decoys as I had been using. I carefully placed a dozen scaup decoys 30 yards in front of the blind, flanking them with a group of teal to the left and gray ducks to the right. A Mojo teal was set up in the landing zone.

Shooting time came and not much was flying, but experience has taught me that as the season progresses the action often comes later in the morning. From our blind overlooking the large lagoon, we began to see low-flying flocks of diving ducks getting off of the water and joining other small groups already rafted up on the water. We also saw some large groups of green-winged teal lifting up and buzzing around like swarms of bees. We had several of these flocks visit our setup, and were able to take a grand total of six after firing quite a few rounds.

The activity in the area was now picking up, and the dos gris action was steady with singles and small groups. They consistently zeroed in on the scaup decoys and Mojo teal, and were easy targets. We also had several groups of buffleheads and one ring-necked duck splash in the decoys. At 9:30, we had our limit of six teal, four buffleheads, one ringed-neck and seven dos gris.

A full limit of 18 late-season ducks.

Back at the Reggio boat launch, we were greeted by duck hunters hanging their heads low and walking around mumbling, “Where did the ducks go?” We simply answered, “They are still around; you just need some late-season magic.”




View other articles written Capt. Steve Himel