Learning to duck hunt

If you are a migratory bird hunter, share your New Hampshire duck hunting tactics here.

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Learning to duck hunt

Postby ShortBeardCommander » Sun Dec 02, 2012 11:01 pm

I've fished all across the Untied states. I've also hunted many different North American game animals but never ducks. My brother in law lives next door to me and was in the same situation. After seeing a few duck hunting shows on television we decided to give it a shot this season. This is our story.

Opening day, 2012.....

We decided to go out behind our houses to a timber swamp deep in the woods. We made a make shift blind, set our decoys and waited. We saw a few flocks of geese fly over but too high. Then two ducks flew into the swamp but did not land with us. After a short while of me being impatient I told my brother in law I was going to sneak up on the two ducks. Well, it turns out sneaking up on ducks is harder than I anticipated. They saw me coming and flew long before I was close enough for a shot. However, they only flew to the other side of the swap. With my new found knowledge on how weary they are I decide to pull on my many years of deer stalking to aid my pursuit. This time everything went according to plan except when I pop up to shoot they had moved down the swap about 40 yards. They get up and fly out through the woods, mental note for later, ducks can fly though thick forest it seems. However, standing there thinking about how they flew out through the forest they suddenly come directly back over me at tree top level. I shoot three times, one duck goes down, winged him. Now the chase is on, back and forth through the swap until my brother in law and I finally corner him. First duck ever, by the end it took about an hour to shoot, kill, and retrieve the duck in 65 degree weather with neoprene chest waiters. To this day I worked more for that duck than any other this season. We get back to the blind and start to cool off, only minutes later another duck fly’s into the decoys and lands. My brother in law shoots. Turns out it was the second duck of the pair I got one from earlier. Both blue wing teals. These are the only two ducks we see and our morning hunt ends.

Things we learned…..

Ducks can fly though the forest, not just over it.
If a pair of ducks fly in and you get one, most likely the second will circle back around to check for its lost companion so be ready.
Early duck season is too hot for neoprene chest waiters, we need a duck dog.
Scouting is requirement for the future.
That was a ton of work for two little ducks……

Opening day, afternoon hunt…..

We had our decoy spread set and blind built by 2PM at a pond about 50 yards from a major river. Fast forward three hours and we see the first duck. It lands in river. I start to call too it and it responds. Out of boredom I call back and forth for about a minute with the duck and to my astonishment it gets up and fly’s directly at us, lands in the decoys and we shoot. Our first mallard is down, this is the point at which I know I’m officially hooked on duck hunting, head over heels in love. It was amazing calling back and forth with the duck. We see about 10 or so more mallards before dark, they all stick to the river and never come look at our pond.

Things we learned…….

Don’t set up at 2PM, we only saw ducks the last 45mins or so of light so we might as well just set up for the last 2 hours for an evening hunt.
If a duck lands across the pond, you can, under the right scenario call to it and convince it to get up and come over to you.
Ducks like to fly up and down rivers and actually follow the bends in the river.
Duck hunting is amazing.....

Fast forward a few weeks.

At this point we are starting to get a feel for duck hunting. We have been to several small ponds but have seen very few ducks. We shift our game plan due to the low duck numbers and head south down near the border of NH and Mass. It’s a large swamp with a lot of dead timber. We get out, find a spot and start to set our decoys, we are about 5 minutes after shooting light but no big deal, its just 5 minutes. While setting out our decoys we have a drake mallard actually land with the 4 decoys we have out and both of us standing there 10 feet from him. He quickly realizes his mistake and takes off. Before we can finish setting out 12 decoys we have 5 other small groups of mallards try to land with us while we are standing in the water in the middle of the decoys without our guns. We have now seen as many ducks in the past 10 minutes of decoy setup as we have the past two weeks of hunting combined. We make it back to shore and get set up in our blind, see a few ducks flying but nothing else comes into our decoys that morning.

Things we learned….

Duck commandments one and two (still have to learn the rest):
1) DECOYS MUST BE SET BEFORE SHOOTING LIGHT!!!!!!!!!
2) YOU MUST BE IN YOUR BLIND READY TO GO BEFORE SHOOTING LIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!
NEVER EVER EVER set decoys during shooting light without your gun in hand…….
During the first 5mins of shooting light while it’s low visibility it seems like the ducks also suffer from the low visibility. This is the only explanation we have for them landing literally on top of us while we were in the middle of the few decoys we have set.

Fast forward, start of the late season:

We are now hopelessly hooked on chasing these billed birds. We have purchased wood duck decoys to go with our mallards as well as a mojo duck for the visual flapping wings. We have shiny new decoy bags and Rig em’ rights for all of our decoys. I bought a Benelli Nova and my brother in law bought a shotgun as well. We now are packing in coffee with us to drink while we wait for first shooting light because we always have our decoys and blind ready early. We both have small collapsible hunting chairs, a must for make shift blind hunting. My brother in law bought a brown lab pup, have to wait for him until next year but something to look forward to other than opening day. We are much less green in the duck hunting world but we are very far from being good. The late season goes well for us, we are seeing more ducks due to our scouting efforts between early and late season. We are also much better shots, this results in a reoccurring Sunday night duck dinner. In the words of Phil from Duck Commanders, we are “happy happy happy”.

Fast forward, late late season:

Small and medium ponds start to freeze. We learn quickly that we have to hunt rivers or large lakes. Due us not having a duck boat we resort to the river at places we can wade across. We notice that all the other duck hunters have come to the same conclusion and ended up at the river with us. We see a few but they are very decoy shy at this point. Again, we shift our game plan and decide to head to the ocean for the first time. We hear they get more migrating birds there. This Thursday morning will be our first ocean duck hunt. We would love any tips or suggestions for ocean duck hunting. It looks like that will be our home for hunting until January. I’ll update this thread again after Thursday.

This was my first post after reading this form for the past few months for help. Its nice to finally chat with everyone.

Beard Commanders, over and out………
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby NHDuckHunter » Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:33 am

Great post- My tip for late season hunting, especially at the ocean- Be exceptionally mindful of temperatures and wading. When its this cold, things can go bad very quickly, especially when walking around through frozen mud.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby JustinNH » Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:37 am

Looks like you have learned a lot in your first season. Welcome to the forum and to the addiction we all love. :welcome:

My buddy and I learned a few similar things out first season/ Didn't know anyone who duck hunted so it was all trial and error. Luckily, i was in college then so I had a lot of mornings off and had one of my best duck seasons (but I sure worked hard for it).

Congrats on the blue wings, those are not very common here and are actually pretty cool for your first birds. :thumbsup:
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby JustinNH » Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:39 am

NHDuckHunter wrote:Great post- My tip for late season hunting, especially at the ocean- Be exceptionally mindful of temperatures and wading. When its this cold, things can go bad very quickly, especially when walking around through frozen mud.


very true. Even just picking up my bufflehead line on Saturday, I could feel that I would not have lasted a long time (or even a short amount!) in that water.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby DuckHunterTy » Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:06 am

Hello all! I am the bro in law from the first post. I figured I'd add a few questions we have. What are you usually using in your spread for the ocean? We have mallards and wood duck decoys. I am assuming those won't work. What do you suggest? A few scouting trips showed a lot of buffleheads. Worth buying those decoys? Bluebills or pintail decoys worth it? Is a Mojo useless on the ocean? How are you setting your spread? C, J or M formation? I see a lot of videos with hunters using a straight line on the ocean. Any help is much appreciated. I've enjoyed reading this forum the past few months.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby JustinNH » Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:39 am

DuckHunterTy wrote:Hello all! I am the bro in law from the first post. I figured I'd add a few questions we have. What are you usually using in your spread for the ocean? We have mallards and wood duck decoys. I am assuming those won't work. What do you suggest? A few scouting trips showed a lot of buffleheads. Worth buying those decoys? Bluebills or pintail decoys worth it? Is a Mojo useless on the ocean? How are you setting your spread? C, J or M formation? I see a lot of videos with hunters using a straight line on the ocean. Any help is much appreciated. I've enjoyed reading this forum the past few months.


:welcome: to the forum!

Bufflehead decoys are always a nice investment. Look into sea duck decoys as well, maybe some goldeneyes. I would not be concerned with pintails or blue bills- though I do hear about some blue bills taken in the coastal zone. Black duck decoys could be beneficial as well... all depends on where you intend to be set up.

Some people use mojos for divers, others say don't bother. Try it out and see if you think it is beneficial.

Long lines are all I have seen used in the ocean. Not saying other ideas won't work, but I'd look into long lines. Google is your friend on how to rig them up. I have my buffleheads on a long line (thought it is not very long), no matter where I use them (lake/river/marsh).
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby ShortBeardCommander » Mon Dec 03, 2012 11:10 am

JustinNH wrote:
DuckHunterTy wrote:Hello all! I am the bro in law from the first post. I figured I'd add a few questions we have. What are you usually using in your spread for the ocean? We have mallards and wood duck decoys. I am assuming those won't work. What do you suggest? A few scouting trips showed a lot of buffleheads. Worth buying those decoys? Bluebills or pintail decoys worth it? Is a Mojo useless on the ocean? How are you setting your spread? C, J or M formation? I see a lot of videos with hunters using a straight line on the ocean. Any help is much appreciated. I've enjoyed reading this forum the past few months.


:welcome: to the forum!

Bufflehead decoys are always a nice investment. Look into sea duck decoys as well, maybe some goldeneyes. I would not be concerned with pintails or blue bills- though I do hear about some blue bills taken in the coastal zone. Black duck decoys could be beneficial as well... all depends on where you intend to be set up.

Some people use mojos for divers, others say don't bother. Try it out and see if you think it is beneficial.

Long lines are all I have seen used in the ocean. Not saying other ideas won't work, but I'd look into long lines. Google is your friend on how to rig them up. I have my buffleheads on a long line (thought it is not very long), no matter where I use them (lake/river/marsh).


We only have a small aluminum john boat so we plan on hunting estuary's and backwaters away from the main ocean. If you could only buy one set of decoys for this (which is about all our wives will let us buy) what type would they be, buffleheads, black ducks, golden eyes or just some generic sea duck pack? We also have an old set of mallards, would it be worth just painting them black?

Thanks!
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby JustinNH » Mon Dec 03, 2012 12:01 pm

Should be fine in most areas with the jon boat, but be careful in it and be sure to know how the current hits the area at certain times of the tides, as well as any rocks that you could potentially encounter.

Since you will not be on the main ocean, I would not worry about the sea ducks. I have seen them out of the ocean itself on poor weather days, but if you can only have one set I'd worry about them later.

All my personal observations:

Goldeneye decoys will help with: goldeneye, bufflehead, mergs (of course others as well). Goldeneye seem to be picky for divers and I have had them come into buffy deeks, but they prefer their own kind. Since buffies don't really care as much, I'd go with goldeneyes.

Black ducks will help with: Blacks (which can be very cautious later in the season), mallards, other puddle ducks, and divers like buffies and mergs will buzz them often. May not want to land, but will give you a shot.

Depends on how the season is going to tell me one or the other.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby duck envy » Mon Dec 03, 2012 2:33 pm

Uuugh... I just wrote a huge reply and lost it. Hate it when that happens...

Did you two brothers in law happen to be launching for an afternoon hunt on Wednesday of this past week around 12:45pm using a Coleman Crawdad style boat?
I saw two guys matching the above time/date/boat each sporting a beard that would fit with your username of beard commander. Haha. If that was you, I was the guy that pulled into the ramp as you were launching. I had a sneak boat in the back of my truck.

My big warning for you when you try the estuaries is this - BEWARE of the mud. First time I hunted the estuaries, I hopped out of the boat and was stuck in waist deep muck. Took me a half hour to get out! I was exhausted. Had it been an incoming tide, I'd have been in trouble. I found that if I stayed in the middle of the waterways, the ground was firmer. But be careful.

I made sea duck decoys out of Hot Buy mallards. Sprayed them black and then added white, tan and orange with artist brushes to look like eiders, scoter and old squaw.
But, in the estuaries, your mallards should attract puddlers and possibly get sea ducks to come close enough for pass shooting.

Buying black duck decoys may help you a bit with drawing in sea ducks and also being something you could use inland.

Shallow water, you can still use individual anchor lines. Deep water, its easier to use gang lines and a single anchor per each dozen decoys or so.

Be prepared to shoot the sea ducks a second time. They are tough!

All crippled ducks in the estuaries seem to know how to hide under the banks and burrow into the marsh grass. If you cripple one, shoot it again before it gets near a bank... otherwise you may never find it without a dog. Heck, we've had some go so far into muskrat dens/runs that the dog couldn't get them.

Sounds like you've had a great first season. Its all about the fun. And waterfowling sure is fun... and addicting.

Good luck.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby DuckHunterTy » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:50 am

Thanks for the responses. It is very much appreciated. I think we're going to try and spray paint some old mallard decoys we have black and see how that works. For the gang line, I think we might try 12 Clorox bleach bottles spray painted some black on them. Cheap and easy gang lines. When setting gang lines, are you doing a big V with the tip into the wind? Parallel lines?

As for hunting on the ocean, assuming you'll be hunting near estuaries and the shore. Are you looking for little streams, fingers, etc that are flowing into the ocean? My fishing sense says that bait fish will be in and around these areas and diver ducks love bait fish. Are you looking for points on shore? Any help appreciated. Thanks again!
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby ShortBeardCommander » Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:25 am

Agreed, thanks for the responses. If anyone sees us out there Thursday or Saturday morning stop and say hi, its always nice putting faces to names. We will be in either a silver or black Tundra with a small aluminum boat.

Thanks!
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby NHDuckHunter » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:17 pm

To each their own, but if you are hunting the estuaries and rivers, I'd be focused more on puddlers and geese then I would divers. Again, this is a topic that comes up all the time and I usually reply with the same response, if you have X dollars to spend, and that is it, how best to spend it? Best thing to do is make a list of what you have, and then make a list of what you want. For my money, just starting off, there is 100 things I'd buy before trying to buy diver decoys. You just won't see many hunting the backwaters, at least I don't.... of course, i don't have diver decoys, so maybe thats why :lol3: If you go to the "Gear" forum, there have been several topics about "must haves" or best investments. 90% of the time its not something you'd even think about until you get it and wonder how you hunted so long without it. :lol3:
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby JustinNH » Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:26 pm

DuckHunterTy wrote:Thanks for the responses. It is very much appreciated. I think we're going to try and spray paint some old mallard decoys we have black and see how that works. For the gang line, I think we might try 12 Clorox bleach bottles spray painted some black on them. Cheap and easy gang lines. When setting gang lines, are you doing a big V with the tip into the wind? Parallel lines?

As for hunting on the ocean, assuming you'll be hunting near estuaries and the shore. Are you looking for little streams, fingers, etc that are flowing into the ocean? My fishing sense says that bait fish will be in and around these areas and diver ducks love bait fish. Are you looking for points on shore? Any help appreciated. Thanks again!



I think the bottle lines are more a low budget scoter/sea duck idea. I don't doubt a dumb bufflehead or merg will come in... but I would not bother with that unless you are in the actual ocean.

I have 4 spots in salt water (but not on the ocean) and looking back on my logs, about 4:1 ratio of divers to puddlers. Lots of buffies, goldeneye, and mergs with a handful of blacks and mallards and teal (yup, teal- even in Nov/Dec) making up the puddler side.

Comparing my #s to what NHDuckhunter said-- the only way for you to know what to buy is to know the spot. Each general spot, while maybe similar habitat, may hold different ducks than another spot. Time of the season also dictates what to use.


I would suggest getting what you completely do not have this year and get the rest when you can. I.e. If you have mallards, it is a safe bet most puddlers will decoy to them and I would not buy specific black duck decoys.

You originally mentioned you saw a lot of buffleheads where you want to hunt. Like I said earlier, goldeneye decoys will bring them in just fine, as well as other divers.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby duck envy » Tue Dec 04, 2012 3:45 pm

If you gang rig decoys and want them in the form of a v you will need three anchors - one at each point of the v - otherwise the open end of the v will swing together and tangle on eachother. Just straight lines of decoys will work. We run them anywhere from six to eighteen decoys per line. Depending on the tide, we may anchor both ends of the line or only one end and then move the boat when the decoys/tide swing the other direction.
Give it a trip with only the decoys you currently have and see how it works out. The further away from the open ocean you get, the less sea ducks you'll see. You may find that you don't need sea duck decoys at all.
If you don't have one, an extendable decoy retriever pole is a big asset. Spots you may have waded to set decoys at low tide will be too deep to wade at high tide. The pole will let you reach out without having to chase down decoys in the boat.
The extension pole also comes in handy for poking around in the marsh grass and under the banks to find cripples that are hiding.
Reminder - leave plenty of slack in your anchor lines to allow for a rising tide, if you plan to stay through the tide change.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby ShortBeardCommander » Thu Dec 06, 2012 5:22 pm

So we made our premier hunt on the ocean today. We ended up taking some old stormfront mallard decoys and painting them to look like buffleheads and black ducks. We set up in a cove we found thanks to google maps.

First hour of light we saw many many ducks, more ducks than we have ever seen in one spot (at this point we don't understand why we weren't on the ocean sooner). We had one problem, no matter what we did they would not land or even come into shotgun range. Several times we had black ducks come in and land 70 yards out from us and just look at us. The rest of the ducks landed on the opposite shore from where we were. After the first hour of this we were annoyed enough to jump in our boat and try to jump shoot the ducks in the middle. That failed miserably, clearly the ducks have seen that gig before. However, we made an important discovery, from the middle of the cove we could not see any of our decoys due to the sun. We had set up in the morning shaded shore line with out ever thinking about it. We also noticed all of the ducks were landing in the sunny side of the cove. With our new found knowledge we packed up our 32 decoys and made the move to the other side. Not even 5 mins after we finished setting the decoys we finally had ducks coming all the way in to shotgun range.

Now we hit two more major snags. First the ducks come in to just about 40-50 yards each time and then bank out and take off like lightning bolts. Second, they are all coming from directly at the sun now that we are on this side so its impossible to see them. We decided to build a better more believable blind in hopes of making them commit to the decoys fully. This worked and we finally started getting some shots.

When it was all said and done we ended up with only one black duck. We saw a lot of buffleheads but they clearly were not interested in our home made bufflehead decoys. We hit one other duck, feathers came out and everything, but he continued to fly away. They are very large ducks, we are going to switch from 4 shot to 2 for the ocean.

Things we learned....

Sunglasses are a must for big bodies of water.
Ducks seem to prefer the sunny side of a cove in the morning.
Don't skimp on your blind because your so excited about all of the ducks your seeing.
Play the tied correctly, taking out at low tide can really suck. We were at war with mud for about an hour at the end of the hunt.
The mojo seemed to hinder us more than help.
I need to practice my goose calling......


Thanks for everyone's help. Now that we have a game plan we are going to head back out Saturday morning and hopefully come back with a limit. I'll upload the pictures of our decoy paint job later.
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby poor_duck » Thu Dec 06, 2012 8:23 pm

you know i really enjoy what you write. You guys are awesome i know there's no doubt you going to be successful in your hunts :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby DuckHunterTy » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:39 am

Are there any good low tide launches on the Great Bay to slide my 12ft aluminum boat in? Doesn't even have to be a launch, just somewhere I can put the boat in during low tide. Thanks!
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby ShortBeardCommander » Wed Dec 19, 2012 2:14 pm

So here is the result of our first two days out in the salt water world of duck hunting. Thanks for everyone's help and advice!

3 Black ducks
1 Hooded Merganser
1 Goose

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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby ShortBeardCommander » Wed Dec 19, 2012 2:19 pm

I forgot!!!

Here are the Stormfront mallard decoys we re-purposed for our ocean duck adventures. They really aren't good but we have had 2 buffleheads and a bunch of black ducks land with them. Yes, as you can tell from the picture above, we missed both buffleheads, they are lightning fast......


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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby deertoducks » Wed Dec 19, 2012 5:05 pm

well done :thumbsup:
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Re: Learning to duck hunt

Postby JustinNH » Wed Dec 19, 2012 6:54 pm

:thumbsup: :thumbsup:
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