Public waterfowl hunting on WMA’s and refuges can be some of the most high pressure situations especially on opening day or the weekends. Good public duck hunting areas are in limited supply, so when word gets out that certain spots are holding birds, it can get crowded fast.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the tactics that work for duck hunting on public land and how you should approach crowded hunting spots in order to be successful. These are the top 5 tips for public duck hunting that have proven to work when nothing else will.
1) Put in the Extra Effort
The one thing that is strikingly clear after hunting public land for many years is that you get what you put in. Showing up late on opening day without having scouted and hoping to luck your way into a good hunt will only result in failure.
Successful duck hunting on public land is all about putting in the extra effort. This means hunting the hard to reach places where others won’t go, putting in time in the afternoons to scout, and showing up early in the morning to get a good spot in line.
Having the right duck hunting equipment is also important to get you to the spots that others can’t. A john boat rigged with a mud motor or airboat will allow you to get just about anywhere there is 1-2 inches of water. Outboards just can’t reach these shallow spots and walk-in hunters have to make a death march just to have a chance.
As birds wise up during the season, putting in the effort to reach the most remote public hunting spots can pay off big time. Also, paying attention to where birds are going to avoid pressure during your hunt can give you an option to pull the decoys and set up in an even area.
2) Modify Your Tactics
Public duck hunting lands like Bayou Meto in Arkansas are known for their heavy shooting pressure. Avoiding it altogether is impossible, but there are some tactics that you can use to limit your exposure.
If you’re hunting a public area where the typical morning starts with a boat race to all the popular timber holes, it can be advantageous to hold back and wait for other hunters to push birds to less pressured areas once shooting time begins. Stalking through the woods in the direction the birds are flying while covering lots of ground is a good approach for finding where dabbling ducks are hiding.
If you can get close to where birds are going down by using stealthy stalking techniques, you can flush and jump shoot them. Spot and stalk hunts are best done with one or two hunters where commotion can be kept to a minimum.
The best spot and stalk methods for ducks include being camouflaged from head to toe. This means wearing gloves and a face mask for total concealment. Other than that, it’s critical that you move slowly through the flooded timber and use trees and brush to mask your approach.
Modifying your tactics on public land is a difficult thing to accept, but can lead to good results when traditional methods are average at best. Just as early season duck hunting tactics differ from duck hunting in January, so should the way you approach hunting on public land.
3) Get to Your Spot Quickly
Public land hunting is almost always on a first come, first serve basis. Showing up unprepared or unorganized can mean the difference from getting to the best spot first or having to hunt a secondary spot that isn’t as productive.
Having the boat loaded and your gear on before your get to the boat ramp or WMA entrance can put you ahead of others that wait to do it as they arrive. This is more of a factor where blind spots aren’t selected by a draw system or you don’t have to wait in line for a spot, but being prepared to get to your spot quickly is a good tactic to employ no matter where you’re hunting on public.
This is especially true if you use a boat ramp or have limited ingress/egress options to the hunting area. You don’t want to be that guy that holds everyone else up because you don’t have your act together. Have all your gear ready to go and organized before you get there.
If you do manage to get to the best spot first, hanging lights from trees and brush can ward off other hunters and keep them from setting up too close. The best way to apply this tactic is to buy small lights or lanterns at your local hardware store. Place them 100 yards from your spot in all directions. Other hunters will get the impression a large group is hunting that area and keep their distance.
4) Hunt the Weekdays to Avoid the Crowds
The best public land duck hunting is almost always done on the weekdays. It simple really, fewer hunters have the ability to hunt during the week, so this can mean open spots and less competition.
While you won’t have public land all to yourself, the amount of pressure on weekdays is considerably less. With less pressure, you can also find some of the best hunting. This is especially true on popular public hunting areas like Justin Hurst WMA in Texas and Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas.
Weekdays are also the time when new birds can arrive and good weather can set in. Taking off of work to hunt the best days means avoiding the frustration of the weekend mess that often blows new birds out of the area.
Hunting the weekdays means hunting relaxed birds and being able to work them without nearby shots sending them flaring. It’s also the best time to scout if you plan on hunting the weekend since weekend hunters are less likely to have seen bird movements prior to Saturday morning.
5) Be Courteous to other Hunters
Duck hunting on public land can seem like it’s an everyone for themselves type situation, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re all trying to have fun and enjoy the outdoors. Being courteous to your fellow hunters can go a long way to ensuring everyone has a good experience.
Tips for Proper Duck Hunting Etiquette
- Avoid setting up on other hunters that beat you to the spot. It’s not their fault you got there late.
- Avoid pass shooting ducks working other people’s decoys. You wouldn’t want them to do the same to you.
- Don’t hail call and intentionally try to pull ducks from other hunters setups.
- Watch what you say. It’s amazing how far sound travels especially over water. Talking bad about people could lead to a confrontation that doesn’t need to happen.
- When duck hunting on small rivers, don’t place decoys where other hunters can’t pass by without going through your decoy spread.
- Give other hunters a wide buffer when passing by them. Stop if there are birds working and continue after they either shoot or the birds move off.
- Don’t block the boat ramp. Have everything you need ready to go when you pull up, or park somewhere nearby to get loaded up before you back up to the ramp.
- If there’s a line at the refuge entrance or boat ramp, wait your turn like everyone else.
- After you trailer your boat, pull out quickly and unload in an area out of the way where you won’t be blocking anyone.
- Don’t run your airboat or mud motor through other hunters decoy spreads. Avoid creating large wakes that could swamp smaller boats.
- Finally, treat other hunter how you would like to be treated.
Duck hunting on public land is often a crowded and frustrating experience for the beginner duck hunter. It can leave many wondering if it’s even worth it with all effort needed to get a good place in line or get to the best hunting spot first.
If public hunting is your only option, there’s several tactics you should apply to in order to increase your success on public land. The first is to either put in the effort or expect mediocre results. Showing up the refuge gate or boat ramp 30 minutes before shooting time isn’t going to cut it.
Having the right equipment can help you get to where most other hunters can’t go. Mud motors and airboats can travel further back in shallow vegetation and flats where you might have the birds all to yourself.
Scouting is also important to stay with the birds all season long and pick the best spots to hunt. Modifying your tactics to spot and stalk jump shooting can be a productive alternative for heavily pressured flooded timber areas.
Getting to your spot quickly should be your top priority. Organize your gear and have your hunting clothes on so you can head off shortly after your arrive. Fumbling around with gear and blocking the boat ramps is a recipe for disaster.
Finally, practice proper duck hunting etiquette while hunting on public land. Respect other hunters and treat them how you expect to be treated. You never know, it could be a young hunter’s first hunt, and making a good impression could go a long way to introducing them to the sport.
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