4 Proven Late-Season Duck Hunting Tactics

4 Proven Late-Season Duck Hunting Tactics

It’s not easy to crawl into the mind of a mallard and figure out where they want to be or what they want to see this time of year. There are all kinds of tactics for consistently killing late-season ducks, but the truth is, not a single one of them works every time. In fact, you’re going to fail more than you succeed, particularly if you are a new, inexperienced duck hunter. The best advice I’ve been given by some of the best duck hunters I know is to simply hunt differently than your competition. Most hunters are going to do what they have always done, throwing out the same decoys and spinners every morning of the season, wailing away on their calls without reading ducks.

That’s when you can capitalize, especially in this last month of the season when migration days are winding down and ducks are stale. Being unconventional is the best way to put a few ducks on the strap right now. Go outside your comfort zone. Of course, there is no guarantee you’ll immediately shoot limits of ducks, but you’ll certainly learn more about what does and doesn’t pique their interest late in the season. And the more knowledge you gain, the better hunter you become. Which you can bank for the rest of your duck-hunting career. In the meantime, here are a few proven tactics that will give you an edge.

Use Long Lines of Diver Decoys

Very few puddle duck hunters use this tactic, and I have seen it work both on private and public water. Big water diver hunters use long lines—a line affixed with decoy clips and an anchor at either end—of decoys to attract bluebills, canvasbacks, etc. Well, most mallards have never seen a long line setup in the marsh or flooded ag field. It’s a fairly easy setup. Use three or four long lines with any species of diver decoys (you can also use multiple jerk cords if you don’t have long lines) and run them straight out from your shooting position.

I like to start the line of decoys at about 25 yards and run them away from the blind. If the wind is right, I sometimes run the lines horizontally in front of our hide. That way, the birds aren’t decoying right at us and instead are focusing on the decoys, not four shooters trying their best to stay concealed. Oftentimes, birds will only buzz the decoys, not set wings and cup in. So you need to be ready to shoot ducks that are not putting the landing gear down. But there are times when ducks follow the script, flying right on top of the decoys and landing in front of the closest decoy to the blind.

Target the Thaw

If, at some point in the season, the temperature drops and freezes everything up, be sure you are in the blind when the weather turns and the warmup begins—ducks will be flying. Some of the private wetlands I hunt don’t have ice eaters to keep water open in cold conditions, but they are often go-to spots as the ice thaws. You’ll probably have to bust through the ice with a Jet sled, weighted down with decoys. I have a heavier sled made of sheet metal, which breaks ice better than plastic, but I only use it on private spots where I can drive up to the water’s edge due to its weight.

Create as big a hole as you can by pushing the sled around the perimeter of the water you intend to open. A large, scoop-style snow shovel works great for clearing chunks of ice from the water. You can also rock your hips back and forth to get the water moving. This will push the ice to the edges of the hole.

I don’t usually deploy decoys in this scenario, especially if there’s not much wind, which causes floaters to be stagnant and look unrealistic. Old ducks that have been in the area are spreading out, trying to find open water and food. New ducks coming in from the south (a reverse migration often occurs during this kind of weather event) are doing the same.

Due to the ice, there aren’t many places for them to land, so they don’t need to see other ducks to cup in, particularly if you’re hunting a flooded food source, like corn, millet, etc. Blow your call and work ducks like you normally would. That makes it sound like there are ducks in the marsh, but also adds an element of confusion because ducks in the air don’t see anything below. It’s a setup most ducks have never seen. That’s advantageous to the hunter.

Stop Hunting from a Blind

Stale late-season ducks know to keep away from permanent blinds—it’s a major reason why they’re still alive. So you need to find another place in the marsh to hunt from. Go ahead and set the decoy spread as you normally would in front of the blind, but then hunt from another spot in the marsh or on the edges—stands of timber or willows are ideal. To conceal yourself in the marsh, use a blind that can be deployed in the water. The Tanglefree 360 Solo Blind is a great option if it's just you and your dog out in the late season. If there is some vertical cover around, you can kneel down and drape camo netting over yourself, but it’s not very comfortable.

Because many ducks are blind and even decoy shy this time of year, they will land outside the shooting range of the setup. In this case, that’s what you want. Just know that if the first few birds don’t land in range and remain in the wetland, you need to quickly move closer to them, because it’s likely every other duck is going to land right in that spot. The smaller the marsh, the better your chances because ducks have fewer landing options. This tactic isn’t great for large bodies of water. But if you hunt a few acres of flooded corn, it can be lethal.

Start Hunting Later in the Day

The average duck hunter is going to get up early, hunt the first few hours after shooting time, and leave by 10 a.m. if they don’t have much success. Late-season ducks know this. Start paying attention to when ducks fly after your morning hunt, and you will likely see many of them dropping in mid-afternoon to sunset. So sleep in and time their flights so that you get into the marsh just before they start flying, shoot your birds, and leave so that the rest of the ducks are none the wiser. This will keep a majority of the birds you’re hunting unpressured.

Of course, this is far more convenient for private hunters, but you can do the same on public water. If there is no draw or reservation needed to hunt the marsh, then walk or boat in when you know most of the hunters will be coming out. If there is a draw or reservation needed and you have to be there before shooting time to claim your spot, do so, but then head to the nearest diner, sip coffee, and eat breakfast for a few hours. Then return later and start your hunt when everyone else has given up.

Want more late-season action? Check out this video of Ryan Callaghan and First Lite’s Casey Hawkes hitting end-of-the-season mallards and widgeon.

Feature image via Matt Andrew.

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