Out of necessity, I started my waterfowling life as a jump shooter. It’s the simplest, least gear-intensive form of the sport, and all I had was a shotgun, $10 PVC barn boots, and a taste for wild duck. I also had ponds and creeks on our farm that held wood ducks early and mallards late. I’d make a circuit of the place, easing my head over the dam to scan ponds, sneaking through standing corn, and walking along the creek. My shotgun was always at ready.
Jump shooting has a lot in common with dog-less pheasant hunting, although there’s a bit more stealth and some spotting and stalking thrown in. The thrill of the flush is the same, too.
One of the charms of jump shooting is that you don’t need to set an alarm clock. Mid-day is the best time to jump shoot. You’re looking for ducks that have finished their morning meal and are whiling away the time before dinner someplace where they feel secure.
I’d pick a gun with a sling, compact binoculars, vest with a gamebag, and breathable waders or hip boots. As for guns, I’d choose something with an open choke for close-range shots.
Ideally for duck jumping you’ll spot birds from a distance then plan a stalk that brings you as close as possible to where they are sitting. Stay low and out of sight. Use ditches, depressions, and tall grass to get close. When you spot birds, be aware that they’re almost always further from shore than they appear to be.
The other way to jump ducks is to go in blind to a likely or reliable spot—say, a small pothole. The sneaking is the same, but when you get close to the water’s edge you have to be careful. Listen for ducks quacking or splashing. Look for ripples and downy feathers on the water and try to lay eyes on the birds if you can.
When it comes to shooting, the same advice a guide once gave me about shooting decoying birds applies to jump shooting: “Get up in a hurry, then take your time.”
You’ll lurch to your feet, gun ready, and rush to the water’s edge to spook birds into the air. Puddle ducks often flush almost straight up like pheasants. Pick one bird, cover the head with the muzzle and shoot. It’s much better to take that shot right away when the bird’s vulnerable head is exposed. My general rule for shooting at ducks applies to jump shooting: stop after two shots. Usually by the time you’re ready for that third shot, the bird is getting out there and going straight away. It’s the riskiest shot in terms of crippling a bird instead of killing it cleanly. Crippled ducks can swim, hide, and dive.
Geese and diving ducks have to run along the water to take off, making them much easier marks, but you still want to shoot them sooner rather than later to save yourself a cripple chase. That third shot I told you not to use? It’s for head-shooting any duck that hits the water with its head still up.
After the shot, stay alert. Sometimes tight sitting ducks will flush after the main bunch goes. If you’re jumping a marsh with a lot of vegetation, it can be worth walking through it. Some birds will sit tight until you almost step on them.
So, you’ve made the shot, and your duck—or ducks—are floating dead on the water. Now what? If there’s much of a breeze, it will eventually blow them to shore and you can pick them up without getting your feet wet. If it’s calm out you can cut a long stick or throw rocks to make ripples that move the bird slowly to wading distance.
Sometimes the duck is too far from shore for a stick and the water is too deep to wade. I remember jumping a teal off one of our ponds, missing, reminding myself that teal often come back, then killing it the second time around. It died in the deepest part of our pond on a calm day. There was nothing to do but swim for it, which I did, and the water was cold enough that I vowed never to do it again. A pack rod and a plug with a gang of treble hooks makes for a great duck retriever. Cast the plug over the bird, snag it, and reel it to shore.
Jump shooting works well with a partner, too. One of you can hide while the other startles birds into flight. Do it right (and carefully for safety sake) and often both of you will get shots. If the two of you have a canoe, you can float rivers and streams. Take turns at the shooting position in the bow. Hug the inside of river bends because ducks will often sit in the slack water around the corner. If you’d like to be extra stealthy and get closer to more birds, drape some camo netting over the gunwales and add brush to the bow. Hopefully the ducks will think you’re just some floating vegetation as you come toward them. You can have a motor on your canoe for getting back upriver, but shooting ducks from a boat under power is strictly illegal. A long-handled landing net makes for easy retrieves.
Always pack a bag of decoys in the canoe or, if you’re walking, take three or four on your back. Some days you don’t flush just five or 10 ducks on a jump. Occasionally you’ll hit the jackpot, startling 100 or more into the air. Resist the urge to shoot. Throw out your decoys and hide nearby. Often those ducks will come back in singles, pairs, and small bunches, and your jump shoot turns into a hunt that would be the envy of any waterfowl purist. Give them an hour to come back—if they don’t, pick up your spread and get back to jump shooting.