One of my favorite times of the year to scout for ducks and deer is late winter and early spring. I love fishing these months, too, but when the temperatures are cold in the mornings, I hit the woods in search of next year’s new spots.
Sure, the same old spots can produce — but learning new areas will help you become a better hunter and develop new skills. In my opinion, hunting new spots is always enjoyable because you learn how game moves at these locations.
This past season all my ducks and 19 big game animals came from hunting locations on public lands where I had never duck hunted or shot deer before. I have hundreds of trees that brought me success over the years, but next year I already have several dozen new locations slated to hunt.
During this time of the year the woods are virtually mosquito-free, and lack hunting pressure, which allows animals to move as they naturally would. And the deer scrapes and rubs are easy to find, which really helps when scouting new turf.
I like to set cameras because it shows which bucks made it through the season. Plus, I’m always armed with my shotgun during February scouting trips with my tungsten coyote ammo in case I run across some hogs.
For the ducks, I go really deep and peak into as many flooded ponds and holes as I can find. I voyage to many deep locations where other hunters aren’t willing to trek. Since most duck hunters use ATVs and powered boats (which I do not,) I look for locations that require a far walk to reach.
Also, I look for flooded areas with oak trees. The woodies and mallards love to gorge themselves on acorns. Just like the deer, the large striped acorns from the red oak nuttall trees — which drop all the way into February — seem to be a favorite of the ducks, too.
Open areas and larger water bodies will usually have other hunters during the season, so I mostly hunt and scout sloughs and small pockets where late-season ducks go to avoid the pressure.
While the majority of duck hunters are using massive decoy spreads, I’m usually hunting with no blind hiding under a tree like a deer hunter — and getting my birds with no, or very few, decoys. By using some face paint and my regular deer hunting camo, I blend right in.
Last year’s off-season scouting is how I had my success on this year’s few duck hunts. But I only go after the birds after downing several deer, because I’m a big game hunter at heart.
As the swamps in the public lands of Northern Louisiana fill up, the mallards and wood ducks pile in as well, making the end of the season the best time to hunt green heads.
As I discussed in my last column, I was forced into some one-handed hunting and had to skip my final few bow hunts to close my season. After a longbow hunt, I went to check out a flooded pocket where I saw lots of ducks last February. Sure enough, the spot was filled with hundreds of mallards and no sign of any other hunters.
Hours later, while attempting to make a decoy bridle for my unique bow release-activated jerk rope with near-frozen hands, my big serrated knife sliced my finger to the bone. I’ve cleaned tens of thousands of fish and more than 100 big game animals and never cut myself badly before, but it’s in the moments you least expect when you get it the worst.
Alone at my camp, I piled the dogs in my truck and started driving to the ER with blood everywhere. I soon found out that fainting isn’t something that just happens in the movies: I lost all my power, got dizzy and drove unharmed right into a ditch on the first turn. Luckily, after laying in the field for a while until the nausea went away, I managed to make it to the hospital more than 30 miles away.
Four hours later they put a tourniquet on my upper arm to slow the bleeding and sewed me up. I was told not to use my hand, and I listened — sort of.
The first thing I did when I got back to my camp was practice with my over-and-under using one arm: after a few shells, I was ready. I even painted my bandage camo using Sharpies because the doctor instructed me to keep the bandage on at all times.
The next morning, I hunted solo and no decoys were needed to down my limit of four beautiful green heads. And I made lethal head shots with my full choke and tungsten ammo without further injuring my finger.
The following morning my spot froze over, but I was able take my bicycle to an even deeper location and stalk-hunt, getting a limit of male woodies and a pair of mallards.
On the final weekend of the year I brought my wife, and we got a few birds. I was letting her do most of the shooting and passed on the majority of shots, but we ended up with a bunch for the pot.
After roasting up some fresh ducks, I was a tad upset that I didn’t get more birds this season.
The attached video includes great footage of lots of ducks I filmed while scouting in the offseason and after morning deer hunts.
My success in the field each season has very little to do with luck — it’s the hard work and thousands of miles on foot each year. From the late-winter weeks when the urge to hunt diminishes, to the 100-degree midsummer days when the heat beats me down and the skeeters eat me alive, nothing stops me from staying on the grind all year long.
This bow season literally got cut short, but downing some birds was a nice way to cap it off. This spring I’ll be in the woods looking for new areas to blast some birds and deer next season on the dozen different public lands I hunt.
Plus, each day after the usual 10-15 miles of morning hiking, I still have plenty of time to hit the water for some good fishing in the evenings.