It’s no secret that when the ponds and lakes freeze over, waterfowl head to the only sources of open water left before finishing the move south. Being on these sources of open water can be highly productive for a hearty waterfowler. Rivers are a good bet, but there are other sources of open water you shouldn’t overlook.
Every year when the regulations and season dates were released, the same thing kept popping up. There was a late two-day duck season in January. Not all that uncommon, except this was northern Michigan and by that time, there was a pile of snow and trucks parked on the lakes. We usually hit the bigger rivers and did okay, but we were never alone.
Then one year, while deer hunting in late November, I came upon a creek not more than 10 feet wide at its widest spot. I thought this might be a good spot to find deer, but instead I found ducks. I came back a few weeks later during that late season and sure enough, there were still ducks there. Big, fat black ducks.
This kind of hunting was full-on, commando-style, sneak-attack jump shooting. You need good, warm waders that are puncture-resistant because you’re going to be crawling creek banks and over fallen trees. I’ve tried several, but tend to go with Cabela’s Ultimate Hunting Waders. If there is a lot of snow, snow camo works well. Travel light, carrying only ammo and a few necessities.
You’re going to get cold and wet, but the hunting will be thrilling from start to finish. We found that as we slowly crept downstream, the birds would push in front of us. The trick was to apply just enough pressure to them to get them to jump in front of you.
We found that having a blocker did not work, as the birds would get too nervous too quickly and leave the area. If we worked them slowly and steadily, they would jump closer to us and only move a short way downstream from us, allowing for a second stalk if someone missed. At the time, the limit on black ducks was one per day — so we did put in a lot of time getting our one duck limit, but it was sure worth it.
There is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time. For late-season ducks, I think this is more the rule than the exception. When there is a hard freeze yet the rest of the weather is reasonably mild, this type of hunting can work. If things get too rough, weather-wise, it’ll drive birds out of the area faster than you can imagine.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being on a late-season fishing trip in Alaska with my cousin. We were going to go after the monster trout that come in after the salmon eggs. As luck would have it, I hit it so that we were going to go out right after the first hard freeze in the area. It is by no means an exaggeration when I say we saw thousands of ducks as well as a few dozen tundra swans. For several hours, I sat in a boat and at no time was there less than a dozen ducks including pintails and mallards sitting more than 20 yards from me. And I had only a fishing pole in my hands. While I did catch some truly amazing trout, I have vowed to return some day with my shotgun.
When the temps are dropping and the lakes and ponds freeze, keep in mind there are still ducks to be had for the waterfowler who is prepared. Scout out spots early, keep a journal of where you think they’ll be and keep a keen eye on the weather.
Be prepared for quick shots and sparse ducks, but you can and will be rewarded with some of the most memorable hunting you’ve ever had. And isn’t that what it is all about anyway?