by Brad Fenson
photo: Brad Fenson
We pulled through the gate and headed down a winding truck trail to the edge of a barley field, but it wasn't the grain or stubble that drew our interest. A small wetland at the bottom of the ridge was our target and when we stopped to open a gate, I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the tall sedges hiding fall's green bounty. There were ducks—lots of ducks!
I couldn’t help but get excited when Mitch Rayner pointed out the expanse of water, and the fact we could only see a small fraction of the birds using the day roost and watering hole. We drove to the fence just 60 metres from the closest birds that looked at us with disgust as if we were interrupting their afternoon snooze. When the truck doors opened, so did the mallards’ wings, and they started to lift off by the hundreds. The first wave was impressive and the roar of rushing wings trying to grab air for a lift sounded like a train coming through the farm country. As we started to talk and unload blinds, the show got even better. There were more ducks hidden in the emergent vegetation than expected and it took several minutes for all of them to fly out. Wave after wave of mallards and pintails exploded into the sky, causing the next group of curious quackers to swim out of cover to see what the commotion was all about. When they saw us working towards shore, they took off.
We estimated about 12,000 ducks were using the pond and just witnessing the awesome display of waterfowl was worth the price of admission. Mitch couldn't quit chuckling in anticipation of the afternoon events. Jordan Clarke was helping us set up before heading back out spotting and wished us well as we finished our set up.
We didn't have anything fancy for the hunt. A couple of stand-up blinds to hide five hunters and a dozen floating Avian-X mallards was as basic as you can get. One spinning wing decoy was added to the mix to try and draw incoming birds into perfect shotgun range. We knew it wouldn't take long for the ducks to return, as several hundred did their best to land on our heads as we set up.
We loaded our shotguns and waited in anticipation for the wave of mallards to return. Within minutes the first group of ducks appeared on the skyline. They were feeding in an adjacent barley field and using this pond as a roost and sipping pond. Kicking them from their watery hinterland did nothing more than stimulate them to go right back to the barley. With snow on the ground and dropping temperatures, the birds had been bouncing back and forth from field and water with regularity.
photo: Brad Fenson
Three mallards swung over the hill to the north and cupped their wings to float in for a drink. There was no circling, or hesitation, as they knew the water well and with a dozen buddies already loafing below they simply committed for splash down. However, instead of having their feet tickle the water, our shotguns roared to put all three birds into a power splash down on the surface of the cold wetland. Things were off to a good start.
Over the next hour, the ducks worked as if under a spell. With perfect conditions and a slight breeze to centre them on the decoys, they committed with reckless abandon. They came as singles, pairs, groups of three and loose flocks of up to a dozen birds. There was lots of gunning for everyone involved, but the chatter and giggles told the story best. It was a dream hunt for late-season mallards that we wait for all season, with the hopes that the end of the hunt would turn out the same as it unfolded.
My wife, Stef, watched a big drake floating towards our decoys and, keeping her eye on the prize, she stood seconds before its orange feet touched the water and unleashed a pattern of steel. Mitch worked his dog, Lincoln, who did a spectacular job of picking up all the birds. Hunting on small water meant there were few cripples and the ones that got into the vegetation were no match for the lab's nose.
With the sun setting, we only needed three birds to round out our limit and as if on cue, a trio drifted in on us from the east. The evening events were over, except for cleanup, so we packed up blinds, picked up empty hulls, and stretched our lanyards with full plumage ducks. We were busy passing things back over the fence to load the trucks when the ducks started to pour in. It was as though we'd only seen a small fraction and with the sun setting the real action started.
photo: Brad Fenson
Dabbling ducks, like mallards and pintails, eat in agricultural fields and their dry diet means they need to water regularly. A sipping pond is used by feeding birds and if you watch carefully when spotting, you’ll see a continual stream of ducks coming and going from the field. If you pay attention and find the pond they are using to drink in, you’ll have a tremendous opportunity to shoot lots of ducks.
You don’t need many decoys. Set them to draw the birds close to the shore you are hunting on, in the calmest water. Ducks will always land into the wind, making it easy to decide how to set up for success.
If the ducks are on the water when you show up, don’t worry. Chase them off, but don’t shoot at them. They will trickle back for the rest of the day, as they would when a farmer bumps them by driving by with a tractor.
Brad Fenson is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, and unique adventures. His passion for the outdoors leads him across North America collecting incredible photographs and story ideas from the continent’s most wild places.