While plenty of duck hunters romanticize about the day they get to own a field of flooded corn or some flooded timber, a multi-million dollar recreational property with diesel pumps and levees just isn’t in the card for most folks. What a lot of folks do have, though, is access to a little pond or two on the back 40.
Now, I personally don’t have any managed property, but I spoke with two fellas that really know and understand waterfowl property management. Chris Rogers from River Refuge Seed in Oregon, and Shane Olson from Habitat Solutions in Oklahoma. Here’s how you can hold more ducks on the family pond.
Both Chris Rogers and Shane Olson stress how important water-level management is to the success of feed growth.
“In the waterfowl management world, everything starts with water control,” Olson said. “You can’t really manage the property without being able to manage the water. We’re trying to mimic every year what mother nature naturally gives us every now and then; a wet spring, a hot dry summer, and a wet fall.”
Rogers agrees that water control is key.
“Install a flashboard riser or some kind of water control, even spend the money on a well being tapped. It’s a game changer when you can push and pull water, you can manage food,” Rogers said.
But if that’s all too expensive, a little bit of sweat equity and natural processes can also do the trick.
“A pipe you can dam up, digging a ditch to let some water out, anything that allows the water level to drop a bit in the summer,” Olson said. “Even if you are hunting beaver dams, go break open the dam just a little bit to get water off in the summertime, then let the beaver go back in and dam it to bring the water level back up.”
The goal is to mimic an ideal natural water cycle because it’s what grows a lot of vegetation and duck’s preferred foods. The wet spring and soaked mud banks allows germination of these “ducky plants” like smartweed and barnyard grass. Then for good growth of these emergent plants, water levels need to drop to allow the plant to establish itself on the muddy banks. Lastly, the reason for the wet fall is to give ducks access to these seeds in the water, rather than the seeds being left high and dry on the bank.
However, if you can’t control the water levels, you can still at least make sure the right ingredients (in this case, seeds) are present in your pond.
“If you can’t drain the pond, you can throw some wild rice in there and set it and forget it,” Rogers said. “If it’s a seasonal pond that drops in water level, broadcast some millet and smartweed on the mudflats. A diversity of plants keeps all kinds of duck species and birds using the pond. The nice thing about a lot of these natural plant species is they’re hardy and reseed themselves for years to come, after the upfront equity of broadcasting.”
In addition to making sure food is present, you want there to be cover. Thermal cover in the water and shore cover that makes the ducks feel protected.
“What I tell clients is, ducks want everything exact opposite of a fishing pond. A fishing pond is 20 feet deep, mowed bank, little cover in the water,” Olson said. “I want less than 2 feet deep, a bank you can’t walk around easily, and lots of cover in the water.”
Another reason to manage for shore cover, especially in northern states, is to attract nesting ducks.
“Ideally, you want to create a complete cycle for these ducks to imprint and nest some broods,” Rogers said. “The pond will hold birds every year if it’s both a nesting location and a feeding location.”
Once the table is set and you’ve made your pond a place that ducks will want to live, you have to keep them there.
“If you only have one duck pond, how much you are shooting it and how long is very important. You have to show some restraint, only shoot it once ever couple to few weeks, and let that ducks sit there unmolested after noon,” Rogers said. “Now that you have food, you’ll see a lot more ducks using the area, but you can’t get too excited and burn them all out.”
Olson compared the managing of your hunting to hunting big bucks.
“When you’re hunting a big buck, you don’t just go trampling into the woods trying to kill him, you hunt him on the edges,” Olson said. “That translates eye for an eye into waterfowl hunting. Your hunting needs to be short, and sparing, and you need to keep from bumping them off your property. As little pressure as possible.”
Ultimately, the end goal is to mimic the natural wetland processes that has made ducks utilize these environments. If you can understand what kind of plants, cover, water, and seclusion ducks like, you will be able to make a couple great hunts off your pond.