Near season’s end several waterfowl hunters get frustrated by educated birds and become a couch potato. From sizing down your spread to changing up your calling, the last waterfowl of the season require your most alluring tactics.
For goose hunting I go to using lots of sleeper shells—up to 70 percent of your spread. Below 20 degrees, geese will go to sleep to conserve energy immediately upon landing in a field. After a half hour to two hours, they’ll get up and start feeding. To simulate a real flock, place sleepers on the downwind side of your spread to look like recently landed geese, with walkers and feeders upwind.
I have some friends that hunt the North Platte River in western Nebraska, where below-freezing temperatures can make open water a precious commodity. Their favorite late-season habitat might surprise you. They hunt Shallow-water riffles, where ducks can loaf in water without fighting the current. Mallards gather in large groups this time of year, so use lots of floaters and full-body decoys.
Arkansas rice fields can be tough places to kill hunter-wise mallards in mid-January, but success hinges on imitating the ducks’ changing behavior. Pair bonding is extremely strong now, so set lots of decoys in pairs and singles. Unless you’re calling to a flock of juveniles, don’t call aggressively like you’re a hen trying to attract drakes. Mix up your calls with single quacks and feeding and lonesome calls. For more realism and to look different from other spreads, use lots of other species, like widgeon, teal, bluebills, and pintails.
They say the smaller subspecies of Canada’s might respond well to any Canada goose call early in the season, but later on you’ve got to match their cadence and pitch. “Use a high-pitched, scratchy-sounding call, and then speed up your cadence with fast clucks and double clucks. A call tuned for honkers can’t imitate these smaller geese.”
Down in south Arkansas, January means changing from lots of water motion decoy movement and aggressive calling to the soft sell. With mallards trying to pair up, you will see them avoiding the commotion of bigger spreads. They’ll light to the side of decoy spreads and avoid the bigger holes. I’ll hunt over two pairs of decoys on a jerk cord in thicker cover and swim those decoys, not jerk them.
Give that decoy spread a different look. We all have some weather worn decoys around the Man Cave. You know, the ones missing paint or are bleached out from the sun. I paint those decoys flat black and put them on a jerk line. They resemble a bunch of Coots, which means safety to a duck flying over.
This is the time of year I get out the Blue Herring or Crane decoys. They are the first birds to leave if there is any sign of trouble. You are giving ducks flying over your decoy spread a comfort factor by including these birds in your decoys.