Be a good scout

Field and Game - - BE A GOOD SCOUT -

Even in a good sea­son con­di­tions change, so does the be­hav­iour of game birds and the best way to im­prove your bag is to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing. Pe­ter Warner and Sav Man­gion ex­plain how some sim­ple tools and burn­ing a bit of fuel can save you time and ef­fort on hunt days and set you on the path to a full bag.

Gipp­s­lan­ders have it easy in many re­spects, with so much duck habi­tat com­pressed into the one re­gion of Vic­to­ria.

Pe­ter Warner has been just about every­where over the past 50 years but he still puts in the ef­fort to scout wet­lands, even the ones he knows like the back of his hand.

“As a group we prob­a­bly hunt four or five days a week de­pend­ing on the sea­son,” he said.

“We would go out three times a week scout­ing: for ev­ery three hours we spend in the hide we would have spent one hour just look­ing about.”

In Gipp­s­land that trans­lates to as lit­tle as a 10-minute drive or up to an hour on the road be­fore trans­fer­ring into a boat.

“We spend a fair pro­por­tion of our hunt­ing time just look­ing; we have an ad­van­tage be­cause ev­ery­thing is so close, but I would rec­om­mend be­fore open­ing and dur­ing the sea­son to get some in­tel­li­gence,” he said.

“We don’t ad­ver­tise what we find from scout­ing; it might be self­ish, but that is the world of duck hunt­ing, just as fish­er­man don’t tell you where they got a bag of fish.”

Pe­ter’s scout­ing tools in­clude a pair of binoc­u­lars, a pow­er­ful spot­ting scope and a small drone, use­ful for tak­ing a ‘duck’s’ eye view of the land­scape.

Three things are re­quired be­fore a lo­ca­tion is even worth scout­ing: wa­ter, ducks and ac­cess by ei­ther ve­hi­cle, foot or boat. Then the more de­tailed work be­gins.

“You need to have a look first and see where the birds are roost­ing, where they are dur­ing the day and where they are feed­ing, look for the flight lanes where they are go­ing to and from and look to po­si­tion your­self where you will get a shot,” he said.

“It isn’t just a mat­ter of find­ing a heap of birds in an area; you need to get the local knowl­edge to get on a flight lane.

“Dowds Morass is an ex­am­ple: it has a lot of heavy cover, you can set up and be 100 m off a flight lane and not get a shot and a hunter only 50 m away will get rea­son­able shoot­ing.”

Ob­serv­ing bird be­hav­iour, es­pe­cially if you are new to a hunt­ing area, is crit­i­cal to suc­cess.

“Ac­cess is the first thing, whether you can get to where the birds are and where you want to shoot, un­der­stand­ing if you can wade or if you need a boat or a ca­noe,” Pe­ter said.

“Birds are crea­tures of habit; if you look in the af­ter­noon you find them rest­ing up and you look for where they are feed­ing, then you look for where you want to set >>

“The trap a lot of peo­ple fall into is they do well some­where so they go back there again; birds aren’t stupid, and the num­bers will drop off with hunt­ing pres­sure,”

Pe­ter Warner

>> up to shoot and as­sess what you need for cover.

“It is very hard to go some­where blind and be suc­cess­ful, par­tic­u­larly here in Gipp­s­land.”

Sav Man­gion chuck­les at the Gipp­s­land scouters “not ad­ver­tis­ing” their prime spots but he adds that he doesn’t ask ei­ther.

“Get­ting will­ing in­for­ma­tion from other ar­eas can be dif­fi­cult; peo­ple are pro­tec­tive of their spots, scout­ing knowl­edge is the only thing that you have you can keep to your­self,” he said.

Be­sides, Sav works on the theory that you should be­lieve half of what you see and none of what you hear.

“I gen­er­ally don’t like ask­ing peo­ple for in­for­ma­tion and my big­gest reser­va­tion about shar­ing in­for­ma­tion is that ducks fly, they move; it is some­times eas­ier not to share be­cause there are so many vari­ables.”

Like Pe­ter, Sav just needs to know there is wa­ter and ducks in a par­tic­u­lar area to make a scout­ing trip worth­while.

Static in­for­ma­tion like ac­cess, camp­ing ar­eas and boat ramps can be assessed pre-sea­son, and weather and wa­ter can be mon­i­tored from afar but pre­par­ing for a hunt re­quires ob­ser­va­tion on the ground.

“Through scout­ing you can find out if the ducks feed at one place in the morn­ing, rest up dur­ing the day, and then feed some­where else in the evening,” Sav said.

A few hours the day be­fore hunt­ing is time well spent but even if Sav ar­rives in dark­ness hours, be­fore hunt­ing starts he will still pick up the binoc­u­lars first and the shot­gun sec­ond.

“Ideally you want to get your head around what it is you are get­ting into, even if it takes you past the le­gal start time,” he said.

“I will do some scout­ing with binoc­u­lars from the shore at first light when it is a new place.”

Pe­ter agrees, adding that you can learn a lot in a short pe­riod time by ob­serv­ing how birds re­spond when the shoot­ing starts.

“Scout­ing goes part of the way, it tells you there’s wa­ter and birds there, but of­ten it doesn’t tell you where you should set up, it helps to see birds in a hunt­ing sit­u­a­tion, fly­ing around af­ter they’ve been stirred up,” he said.

“By go­ing back to the same area you gain knowl­edge over time which you can ap­ply.”

Both like the idea of keep­ing a di­ary or some sort of record of lo­ca­tions, con­di­tions, and bird be­hav­iour but Pe­ter warns not to keep re­turn­ing to the same spot ex­pect­ing the same re­sults.

“The trap a lot of peo­ple fall into is they do well some­where so they go back there again; birds aren’t stupid, and the num­bers will drop off with hunt­ing pres­sure,” he said.

“We har­vest, al­most farm, birds, by ro­tat­ing out shoot­ing spots.”

Pe­ter ap­pears to break rule num­ber one (go where the ducks are) by re­veal­ing the true se­cret of scout­ing — the abil­ity to find out where the birds will be.

“There are plenty of spots we go to where you won’t see a bird but you know it is on a flight lane and if you put the de­coys out you will bring them into range,” he said.

“If you go to a spot and don’t do any good go back there but move around and try dif­fer­ent ar­eas.”

Weather is an­other fac­tor, es­pe­cially in Gipp­s­land where king tides and rain­fall can cre­ate ir­re­sistible feed­ing ar­eas overnight.

Fog will pre­vent ducks fly­ing or you see­ing them even if they do, and if the wind blows the ducks head to shel­tered ar­eas.

“If it is blow­ing a gale at 4 am when you head off, that’s a dis­ad­van­tage,” Pe­ter said.

“We look at the weather for the week and plan lo­ca­tions based on the con­di­tions and our scout­ing on the ground.

“I have about 250 way­points on my hand­held GPS for spots I know birds go to; it is a very handy tool for scout­ing and par­tic­u­larly good for find­ing those places again in the dark.

“I like to mark a spot on the shore­line and then the spot where I want to get to in the wa­ter; if you have to walk a kilo­me­tre it can be very hard in reed-cov­ered ar­eas to find a lo­ca­tion with­out a GPS.”

Both scouters see the chat­ter on so­cial me­dia about what ar­eas are hunt­ing well but they pre­fer to go to places where they have gath­ered their own in­tel­li­gence.

“The best scout­ing is to go out and have a look,” Pe­ter said.

“The spot­ting scope and binoc­u­lars are where you really hone in on the birds, you might even put them up and see where they go.

“You have to keep look­ing be­cause the num­bers fluc­tu­ate dur­ing the sea­son and bird be­hav­iour changes dur­ing the sea­son.”

Hun­ters who can’t spare the time to scout tend to grav­i­tate to the places where the most birds are re­ported, which gen­er­ally means it also has a high con­cen­tra­tion of hun­ters.

Pe­ter rec­om­mends us­ing gen­eral knowl­edge to scout the day be­fore open­ing, look­ing at al­ter­na­tives nearby.

“Do I want to be where there’s a big bunch of birds and a big bunch of hun­ters and all the as­so­ci­ated is­sues or should I look for some­where with less birds and fewer hun­ters? My pref­er­ence is def­i­nitely the lat­ter,” he said.

“If you are in a re­gion, use the time when you are not hunt­ing to scout and gather knowl­edge for to­mor­row’s hunt or one in the fu­ture.

“Don’t waste the op­por­tu­nity, you might find a spot to come back to.”

Sav Man­gion said scout­ing gives you con­fi­dence as a hunter and the more you do the bet­ter you get.

“If you do it right then ev­ery­thing else is 10 times eas­ier, you want to be where the ducks want to be, so go and find out where they want to be,” he said.

“Build your knowl­edge base, whether you keep a di­ary or keep it in your head; it is some­thing fish­er­men have been do­ing it for years, but duck hun­ters haven’t been in the same habit.”

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