How to Scout for Waterfowl

Cinque Terre

It’s all about setting up in the right place. If you want to successfully field hunt ducks and geese, you must invest time in scouting—if you don’t, prepare to be disappointed.

1. Find the roosting water

Every night geese and mallards roost on large wetlands, so start your scouting here (these wetlands are generally permanent with birds returning every year). A map or satellite-based app can help you identify roosts in your hunting area. Position yourself on nearby high ground and use a spotting scope or binoculars to watch birds fly off to feed.

  • Mallards, snow geese and specklebellies often fly off the roost each morning before legal light. Being in position early is critical.
  • Canada geese keep banker’s hours—arriving as legal light breaks is generally sufficient.
  • Resist the temptation to follow the first flight out. It may not represent the bulk of the roosting birds.
  • Once you’ve determined the prevailing direction most of the birds are headed, follow in your vehicle to find where they’re feeding.

2. Learn the landscape

Field-feeding waterfowl have definite food preferences, with peas and barley topping the list. It pays to know where specific crops have been planted, and at what stage they’re at in the harvest cycle.

  • Identify fields planted with crops that are likely to attract waterfowl before the season. Mark them on a map and periodically visit them as the season progresses—birds will show up at some point.
  • Once the birds arrive, watch the field for at least two consecutive days to confirm they’re committed—you’d be surprised how often waterfowl will jump fields, especially early in the season.
  • Even if you don’t plan to hunt for a couple days, secure hunting permission from the landowner as soon as you’re confident you’ve discovered a field worth hunting.

3. Keep your spot on the spot

You’ve found a field with feeding birds and secured hunting permission...but your work isn’t over yet.

  • Note precisely where birds are feeding in the field. Otherwise you risk watching helplessly from your blind as the birds spiral down into another part of the field.
  • On the eve of your hunt, after the birds have returned to their roost, leave a reflective marking stake where you plan to set up. Or drop a pin on your smartphone’s satellite map to help find the precise location in the dark the next morning.
  • Satellite maps also help identify features like hidden sloughs, fence lines and transitions between crops—important when deciding where to set up.
  • Note or mark field access points, also tricky to find in the morning darkness.

It’s simple—time spent scouting will pay for itself tenfold. Now let’s see if tornados of ducks and stormfronts of geese spiral into your decoys!

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