Hunting diving ducks on big water is among the most challenging and rewarding of the waterfowling pursuits. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Ducks don’t use a lake proportionately. Scouting first helps you identify daily movement patterns—where birds prefer to feed, loaf and roost. Wind direction impacts duck movements, so take note of prevailing winds when you scout. Identify potential blind locations in proximity to high-use areas. Islands, points, throats and river deltas are all likely locations.
Decoy formations of V’s, U’s, W’s, J’s and more all work on big water. Have an open landing area where you want ducks to land in relation to your blind, optimally on the downwind side of the spread. Space your blocks much wider apart than you would in a field, as it gives the appearance of more birds. On big water, more decoys are almost always better.
Consider using a long line (a longer string of decoys that extend past the main grouping of your decoy set up). Set one that extends 100 to 200 metres angled downwind, anchored at both ends, with decoys spaced 5-10 yards apart. The near-shore end of the long line terminates just beyond your furthest single-line decoy, on the upwind side of the set.
Open water hunters can hunt from a boat or shore. When locating a shore blind, set up in a crosswind situation, so that approaching birds will pass across the front of your blind. Natural points and islands are good options, with the downwind side the better choice for blind location. Ducks often fly along the lee side of islands, points and bays on windy days. Where possible, use natural cover for your blind, including grasses, rock piles or fallen timber. Bring a seat to maximize your comfort.
Hunting from a boat allows greater options for location, but there’s more concern for concealment. Commercial boat blinds are available, but many hunters just tuck their boat into cattail or bulrush beds.
Late season on big water can bring life-threatening conditions in the blink of an eye, so dress for the worst possible weather. Gloves, a toque and layered garments that ensure both warmth and waterproofing are imperative. Many wear chest waders, even when hunting from ground blinds, as they provide insulation and protection from rain, sleet, waves and shaking retrievers.
Shots are often long, so a 12-gauge is the only practical option. If there’s ever a need for a third, anchoring shot, it’s here, so pump-actions and semi-autos are recommended.
From steel to one of the other non-toxics, many shotshell choices are effective when shot sensibly. An all-round choice is 3” loads of #3s. If you plan to invest in the more expensive shot alternatives, this is the time; large diving ducks are notorious for absorbing pellets.