Duck hunters have a romance about snowstorms that most other hunters don’t share. If you ask a duck hunter what some of their favorite conditions are, they’ll almost unanimously love blizzards. The reason for this is because snowstorms invoke a level of urgency in waterfowl that you don’t see very often, and many times they decoy with reckless abandon in the snow and wind. It's why those who survived the Armistice Day blizzard that killed dozens of hunters said it was the best waterfowling of their life. Simply put, duck hunters embrace winter storm warnings.
Here’s a few things to bear in mind to ensure you take advantage of those few precious hunts where the snow is falling and the wind is blowing.
Don’t Stray Too Far from the Roost This one applies more to field hunters than anyone else but can also apply to flooded fields and water feeding areas as well. The logic is simple: When snow is coming down heavy, birds won’t fly as far from their roost to feed.
Anecdotally, I’d imagine this has to do with low visibility making navigation hard. Regardless, I’ve seen it time and time again—ducks will stop short of their normal feed patterns when the snow starts flying. Let me be more specific with a couple examples.
Ducks on my home turf in South Dakota tend to fly anywhere from 2 to 10 miles to their evening feeds, and I’ve experienced a whole pile of ducks on the Platte River in Nebraska flying up to 35 miles to their sundown feed field. But the catch is those distances are based on clear skies and nice conditions. Once you add wind and snow those feed distances shrink substantially, and often the ducks will start using the first few fields closest to the roost. The feed distances might be a couple hundred yards to a maximum of 3 to 4 miles. In that case, you’ll want to make sure you’re as close to that roost as you can realistically get when the weather turns snowy.
And even though their feed pattern can change, I’ve found a consistent way to be successful when the weather causes a pattern shift. Before the snow begins (either the morning before or evening before) I follow the birds to their feed and mark every cornfield on onX that’s under the flight line. Then instead of getting permission for the feed itself, I try to get permission for the cornfield closest to the roost. If I can’t get permission on the closest one, I sequentially work out from the roost towards the feed until I eventually get permission. The goal is to hunt the closest feeding area to the roost as you can.
Be At the Feed When the Snow is Falling One of the biggest mistakes you can make is missing the snowfall flight. I’ve seen plenty of hunters think that the birds will continue their pre-snow feeding pattern, but I’ll give another specific example.
A few years back, we were in Colorado with a local who had the bird pattern dialed. There was no snow on the ground, conditions were frosty in the morning, and the birds were feeding a few hours after sunrise. The pattern had held for weeks, and he was convinced that we wouldn’t need to be set up until about an hour after sunrise, even with the snowfall predicted to be heaviest at legal shooting light. However, I was less convinced. My personal experience had always been that birds fly right away at first light when the snow is falling, but I agreed to the later setup. The next morning, we were still setting decoys at sunrise with 2 inches of fresh snow and swarms of birds trying to land in the field. We weren’t anywhere close to ready, missed the main flight, and all but ruined our chances at a good hunt.
The natural explanation is easy, too. The snow is a trigger for the birds to get desperate for food, and they start heading to their feed locations when the snow starts falling. You better be there ready and waiting when they arrive.
Be Patient and Visible on the Water If I’ve made any mistake when hunting water in a snowstorm, it’s giving up too easily. When the snow is falling, ducks and geese will spend hours and hours at their feed. Sometimes ducks will spend three or four hours in a cornfield during heavy snowfall. On days like that it’s easy to get discouraged because the birds just aren’t on the water where you are. Many of those days I’ve wanted to wrap up the hunt at 10 or 11 a.m., convinced that it’s just not going to happen.
But if the birds were using your water spot before the snow, chances are they’re going to be back once they’re done gorging in the fields. When those ducks have finally had their fill and come back to the water, you can be in for some of the best decoying of your life. Furthermore, the ducks typically don’t migrate during the heart of the storm, so you might have the ducks painted into a corner as their options are limited to where they know they have water and food. As long as your spread is visible in the snow when they come back from the feed, you should be ready for some of the best midday hunting of the season.
Snow is the great equalizer, the opportunity we wait for all season when the ducks win over and over again. Just be wherever the ducks will seek food when the snow starts falling, and make sure to bring enough shells.