John's Journal...

Short-Stopping Ducks

How Weather Affects Ducks

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Missouri has become one of the top duck states in the nation. Many waterfowl hunters wonder why so many ducks stop in Missouri and Illinois and not come further south. To learn the answer to this question, we went to Missouri and hunted with Avery Pro Staff Team member, Tony Vandemore of Kirksville, Missouri. We also wanted to know how Vandemore takes a limit of ducks almost every day of the season.

Question: Tony, how does weather affect ducks?
Vandemore: If the weather’s warm, ducks don’t have to fly. They can sit on the water, eat invertebrates and moist soil plants and never have to leave the water. Even if the area you’re hunting gets a pretty good wind, the ducks may only get up once or twice to stretch their wings. But they won’t fly off the refuges or the open water where they’re feeding, roosting and loafing. In warm weather, the ducks don’t have to move.

Question: How do you hunt ducks in warm weather?
Vandemore: When I’m scouting in hot weather, I look for loafing areas instead of feeding regions. We try to reach those loafing areas before the ducks. We know that the ducks will be in the loafing area usually from mid-morning to midday. This is usually not a roosting area, so we go to the loafing areas before daylight when those slow ducks are there, and simply wait on the ducks to show. This way, we don’t have to flush any ducks.

Question: What happens when a cold front hits?Click to enlarge
Vandemore: Ahead of the front, the ducks have to feed because they know when cold weather hits, especially severe cold weather, they will either be flying a lot or resting a lot. So, they’ll feed up ahead of that front. That’s when I start hunting around food sources, either dry fields where there’s still grain on the ground, or flooded fields where there’s standing corn.

Question: When the weather stays really cold for one week, where will you hunt the ducks?
Vandemore: When the weather’s cold, I’ll be hunting food sources. The colder the weather becomes, the more food a duck has to eat. The ducks will definitely have to eat once a day and more than likely, twice a day. If you’re hunting around food, the ducks want to eat, so they have to be there.

Question: How do you hunt ahead of a rain front?
Vandemore: Rain can be tricky. The intensity of the rain and the amount of rain you get determines how good or bad the duck hunting will be. In a light rain, some ducks will still fly, but I’ve never had a really good duck hunt in a hard-driving rain. Typically, the ducks will stay wherever they are and not move during a hard downpour.

Question: How do you hunt during a light snow?
Vandemore: I’ve had good duck shoots in a light snow, especially hunting over food, whether I’m hunting flooded cornfields or dry fields. I’ve had really good shoots in light snow and a few good shoots in heavy snow where I’m exactly where the ducks want to be, and I’ve done an extremely-good job of scouting. However, most of the time, during a heavy snow, the ducks don’t want to move. Click to enlarge

Question: How do you hunt on windy days?
Vandemore: Wind is a duck hunter’s friend because it makes your decoys move and look more lifelike. However, the wind can blow too hard, and you can have a lousy shoot in heavy winds. In a 40-mile-per-hour wind, you’ll still have ducks moving, but they won’t travel as far from their roost as they normally will. Geese follow the same pattern. For instance, if geese or ducks are flying 15 miles from their roost site to feed in a field in a 40-mile-per-hour wind, they may stop and feed in a field 3-miles away. You’ll still have ducks migrating in 30- to 40-mile winds, but the ducks in your area won’t travel too far from the roost site during heavy winds. Another factor is that in our region, rarely will we have a day we hunt when we have a sustained 30- or 40-mile-an-hour wind all day. When that wind drops off, the ducks will often move, but when the wind’s blowing hard, they usually won’t move. So, oftentimes, you can get in some pretty good hunting in-between really-high winds.

Question: How do you hunt when there’s no wind?
Vandemore: Since there are only 60 days you can hunt for ducks, I’ll still hunt when there’s no wind. However, I’ll take a jerk cord to put motion in my decoys because ducks still move. They’ll usually fly higher than they will on those days with no wind, but they’ll still be flying. I’ll stay more concealed and much more still in my blind than I will on a windy day.

Question: How do you decide if you’ll hunt over water or a dry field?Click to enlarge
Vandemore: The time of year and the weather dictate where I hunt. At the first of the season, with all the flooded corn we have in our area, we typically don’t hunt fields when the weather’s in the 60s or the 70s. We let the ducks dictate when we hunt dry fields. When we start seeing the ducks using the fields, we start hunting the fields.

Question: What do you do when you have ice-ups?
Vandemore: When we have ice-ups, the ducks are much easier to hunt. All we have to do is break a hole in the ice and push the broken ice under the ice still in place so there’s a clean-water hole for the ducks to light in to the decoys. We set full-body decoys and shells along the edge of the ice, and we put 1/2- to 1-dozen floating decoys out on the water.

Question: Do you prefer to hunt on sunny or cloudy days?
Vandemore: I prefer sunny days because on cloudy days, ducks can see better. I’ll take sunshine over clouds any day of the week. I can set up my blinds so the ducks are looking at the sun when they come in, and I can see the greenheads better on sunny days than I can on cloudy days.

Question: What size shot are you using for ducks?
Vandemore: I typically shoot No. 4s in the early season and No. 2s later in the season. In the early part of the season, we still have a chance of taking gadwall and teal, but toward the middle and the end of the season, we’re mainly shooting mallards. The ducks in the latter part of the season usually have more fat than the ducks in the earlier season, which is why I prefer the heavier shot then. The No. 2s are also a productive goose load, and later when goose season opens, we’ll often take geese at the same time we take ducks. In the early season, I like Remington Wingmaster HD No. 4s, and later in the season, I like Remington Wingmaster HD No. 2s.

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Check back each day this week for more about "Short-Stopping Ducks"

Day 1: Why So Many Ducks Stop in Missouri
Day 2: A Weird Hunt
Day 3: Why Use the Train-Wreck-Type Decoy Spread
Day 4: Why Only Greenheads
Day 5: How Weather Affects Ducks



Entry 384, Day 5