By Tim Springer
It was a bittersweet hunt two week ago. On the one hand, three
of us had just taken our limit of mallards, geese, and a pintail
each. Not bad for only the second weekend of the Minnesota
waterfowl season in ’03.
But the bitter part: I had just witnessed my young field trial
chocolate Lab, Lucille, put on a flawless performance of being
steady, marking some long falls, and doing a couple of 300-yard
blind retrieves on hit birds that dropped way out there. This was
just the fourth waterfowl hunt of her life, but it would be her
last for this season due to pregnancy.
The previous day we had hunted a slough that held some teal and
mallards, of which most were very decoy shy. We scratched out a
couple birds but nothing special. That evening we split up and
scouted, each of looking for ducks.
I hit the jackpot. After watching several large flocks of
mallards circle and settle in, half the battle was won. We were
The next morning before dawn found us setting up three dozen
goose decoys, then using shovels to smooth out a spot to lay, and
to get our bodies level with the ground’s surface. We weren’t
hunting over water, but rather in a disced cornfield. Although most
of equate cornfield mallards with late season hunting, the truth is
many ducks begin feeding in cut grain fields right after harvest.
Mallards are the primary field feeders, with pintails, wood ducks,
and the occasional other puddler rounding out the bonus birds.
Most ducks taken during field hunting are probably a bonus for
those targeting geese. But why not target the ducks? Field hunting
for ducks remains an untapped method in my opinion.
First, ducks are harder to follow than geese, as they are
smaller and harder to see on the ground. Watch for them circling a
field, then try to pinpoint where they are landing. Confirm the
spot by observing feathers and droppings on the ground when setting
Farmers can be hard to locate during harvest, and many do not
appreciate being bothered during this critical time of year. If you
see a lot of combines going full-bore, this is a good sign that
most farmers are working almost around the clock to get the crops
in the bin. Did you develop those contacts during times that are
less busy, such as winter, or on a raining day, like we preached in
Outdoor News three months ago?
Field hunting can be boom or bust. One good hunt often can mean
numerous days of scouting and not hunting. Birds are located and
permission denied means starting at square one. Many waterfowlers
would rather enjoy a day in the marsh vs. one spent in the truck
driving. Sometimes the birds are found, permission is granted, and
for whatever reason the birds are a no-show. This means that you
lay in a field lucky if a pigeon or crow flies past for
entertainment. On the water, there always seems to be some wildlife
to observe or birds to watch, even if good shooting doesn’t
Despite the negatives, field hunting can provide hot action
during lulls in the season. Often these birds, even if local, are
more brave when field feeding. In a plowed or disced field the
decoys can be hard to spot, so some attention-getting flagging or
other duck-imitating motion is helpful.
In pure stubble the ducks will have an easier time spotting the
decoys. Calling seems to work better here, especially if the birds
in the air are quacking or chuckling. Goose calls can work to get
the duck’s attention, too.
Sit right in the decoys, as ducks can drop fast and may almost
land on you, providing easier clean-killing shots and a better
chance at picking out drakes. Use a shovel to provide yourself with
a smooth, comfortable place to lay down. An uncomfortable setting
will make you miserable as the birds circle and circle.
If everyone holds still and there is no glare, be patient with
the circling birds. Let them work and work, and eventually they’ll
commit and drop, which is very exciting and almost as much fun as
the shooting part.