Mist rising off the water; crunching of frozen grass underfoot; scraping ice from windshields – all the sounds waterfowl hunters association with the arrival of the late duck season.
This year, the late season in Pennsylvania opens in the North Zone, Friday, Nov. 11, and extends through Wednesday, Jan. 4. It opens in the South Zone, Wednesday, Nov. 15, and extends through Saturday, Jan. 14.
Waterfowl hunting in general, and duck hunting in particular, often provides some of the best action – especially in the late season. For newcomers, however, getting started can be intimidating with the choices of calls, decoys and shotguns.
One of the best ways to prepare is to talk with some like Cory Dukehart, the Mossy Oak Waterfowl Regional Pro Staff Manager for the Atlantic Flyway. Born and raised in Maryland, he began joining in on waterfowl hunting trips by accompanying his father at an early age, playing the dual roles of observer and retriever.
Those trips got Dukehart more interested in ever on waterfowl hunting, and as he got older he became getting more involved in waterfowl hunting. He is fascinated with the art of calling waterfowl and strives to improve his skills by hunting throughout the United States and in Canada and works at finding just the right calling technique in each area.
Dukehart began participating in waterfowl calling contests in 2006 and since then has won championships in contests held in Virginia, Pennsylvania, the Delaware Bay and the Upper Chesapeake Bay. When not hunting or participating in calling contests, he travels throughout the mid-Atlantic Region sharing his knowledge of waterfowl hunting by conducting seminars at stores and shows.
Here are some tips from Dukehart designed to make both veterans and novices more successful waterfowl hunters:
What to look for when scouting for places to hunt ducks.
"This depends on if I am hunting public or on private land. Typically, if hunting public land, the area of scouting is a lot larger. When on public land, look for areas where birds are grouping up to rest. Typically, in public land scenarios birds are pressured a lot, so if I find a spot where they feel comfortable relaxing, that is where I would try to set up.
"Private land is a lot different because of being restricted to the area of land to hunt. This makes scouting much easier because of less ground to cover, and hopefully, the area is being used by birds. If so, just keep an eye on them for 2-3 days before hunting that spot."
How to decide on decoy placement for ducks.
"I have tried all different set ups for ducks in a lot of different scenarios, and I do things differently depending on if I am hunting ducks alone or ducks and geese together. All waterfowl like to land into the wind, and when hunting ducks only, I will always set up with the wind at my back. This will help get the birds to land into your face and shooting zone and not behind you.
"I use any variety of the "U," "J" hook, or "C" pattern shapes and have not found one to be better than the other. Any pattern that allows the birds to land into the wind and gives them an open spot to aim for is worth trying."
Selecting decoy patterns when setting up and changing the spread during the hunt.
"My decoy patterns depend solely on the wind direction and speed. A very light wind allows you to be a little bit more lenient with your pattern direction, whereas a fast strong wind you have to follow it exactly if you want good shots.
"I will absolutely change my spread throughout the hunt. A lot of people do not like to get out of their blinds to make a change to the spread due to the lost time and the possibility of losing birds that may come to work the spread while you are in it, but, if you are seeing a negative trend from the birds you need to do something, or you will probably watch them repeat that trend all day long."
Using layout blinds when field hunting and placement in a decoy spread.
"I use layout blinds in some situations for both ducks and geese. Typically I will place my blinds right in the middle of my spread facing the landing zone with the wind at my back. I try to thicken up the decoys in that area to help hide my blind."
Basic calling tips for ducks.
"Most people make the mistake of calling at ducks too much. In most cases, I think less is more with ducks. Give them just enough pecking and clucking and a few quacks are typically all it takes especially in high pressured areas."
Choke selection depends on the type of hunting.
"I have about four different choke tubes that I use in different situations. In reality, they are not that different from each other, but if I know I am going to be focusing on a specific size of bird, I will most certainly change my tube accordingly."