Workingman’s Wa­ter­fowl

Land duck breasts in your fry­ing pan with only a shot­gun and shells

Modern Pioneer - - Contents - By Jace Bauser­man

When I jumped head­first into archery, I aban­doned wa­ter­fowl hunt­ing. As a young, col­lege-aged stu­dent with a min­i­mum-wage farm job, I sim­ply couldn’t af­ford both. To fund my archery ex­cur­sions, I sold the few dozen duck de­coys I had and didn’t look back. Af­ter all, that chap­ter of my life was over, and I was on to big­ger and bet­ter ad­ven­tures. Fif­teen years later, I found my­self with a son who wanted to go wa­ter­fowl­ing and a wife long­ing to prac­tice a few Pinterest duck recipes. No prob­lem. The kids needed shot­guns, and to be hon­est, I was ready to get back to my roots. The ini­tial 20-gauge in­vest­ment didn’t break the bank, but when I be­gan re­search­ing mod­ern duck calls and de­coys, I freaked out. My bud­get couldn’t take the hit. Rather than panic and throw in the towel, I sim­ply took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, one my Arkansas an­ces­tors used, and one I’d prac­ticed long be­fore my first dozen mal­lard deeks ar­rived on my par­ent’s doorstep.

The Art of Jump Shoot­ing

Like all hunt­ing, ef­fec­tive jump shoot­ing starts with scout­ing. Use Google Earth to lo­cate smaller bod­ies of wa­ter in your hunt­ing area. Re­mem­ber, the smaller it is, the bet­ter your chances of suc­cess. Big wa­ter leaves too many vari­ables and of­ten leads to an empty game bag. Af­ter pin­ning a few rivers, creeks, slews and lesser-sized ponds, note the lo­ca­tions of nearby agri­cul­tural fields. Picked corn, milo and freshly sprouted win­ter wheat fields are worth con­sid­er­ing. Ducks must feed, es­pe­cially when the mer­cury drops, and they know where the food is. You should, too.

Next, take a pre-dawn drive. Ducks are early ris­ers, and un­less tem­per­a­tures are ex­tremely cold, they will be drop­ping back on their rest­ing wa­ter right at day­break. I like to park my truck, climb into the bed and fix my 12x bi­nos on the wa­ter I’m plan­ning to hunt. Then, I just watch and lis­ten. Pay close at­ten­tion to where on the wa­ter ducks land and where they pad­dle. This will give you a good idea of ex­actly

“Use Google Earth to lo­cate smaller bod­ies of wa­ter in your hunt­ing area.”

where to come up on the birds, es­pe­cially when jump­ing slightly big­ger wa­ter.

Since you aren’t de­coy­ing, you only need a few whistling wings to de­scend on the wa­ter to make the scout­ing mission suc­cess­ful. Af­ter all, you’re go­ing to jump the wa­ter and move on. When jump­ing, don’t worry about big num­bers of birds.

I watch the wa­ter un­til sunup, then I hit the black­top, driv­ing to the other ponds, creeks, slews and the like, putting my bi­nos to work. You’ll find many open-wa­ter ar­eas can be glassed out of your truck win­dow, but you’ll have to burn a lit­tle boot leather for oth­ers. I pre­fer the lat­ter. Why? Sim­ple. They re­ceive less pres­sure from other hun­ters, and be­ing able to walk in to them al­lows me to plan my ac­tual hunt route. As soon as you can see wa­ter, stop. Ducks don’t tol­er­ate on-land move­ment, even at a dis­tance, and if you’re de­tected, they’ll flee. Prime walk-in wa­ter ar­eas in­clude slews, small ponds and bends in creeks and rivers.

Yes, you can scout and jump the same day, but if you’re new to jump shoot­ing, I highly rec­om­mend scout­ing thor­oughly to learn the wa­ter in your area and how ducks use it. I jour­nal my scout­ing and hunt­ing es­capades, al­ways list­ing duck-rich ar­eas. Th­ese “fowl zones,” as I call them, will pro­duce con­tin­u­ally through­out the sea­son if not overused.

One, Two, Three

There’s noth­ing overly ro­man­tic about jump­ing ducks. You’re not go­ing to get that feet down, wings cupped ex­pe­ri­ence, and you’re not go­ing to watch your breath turn white and dance in the beam of your headlamp while you ar­range the per­fect de­coy spread. Rather, you and your hunt­ing part­ner (I like to have at least one as more shots of­ten means more duck breasts) are go­ing to walk, wad­dle, hun­ker and crawl to get in po­si­tion. Then, with a one, two, three count, you’ll rise up quickly with guns blaz­ing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an ab­so­lute ball, es­pe­cially when you know a few ducks will spring off the wa­ter and the smell of spent gun pow­der will fill the air.

The most im­por­tant thing is to take your time and slip into those known (you scouted them, right?) duck ar­eas with­out be­ing seen. If pos­si­ble, take a glimpse at the wa­ter, but only from a dis­tance. How­ever, if you can’t, don’t push your luck. I hunt a lot of creek and river bends and cat­tail-cov­ered slews. If I can’t glass any of th­ese ar­eas, much like stalk­ing a big mule deer buck that I can’t see af­ter leav­ing my van­tage point, I just trust they’re go­ing to be there. Don’t cut corners. Ap­proach each jump­ing spot metic­u­lously and be­lieve the birds are there.

Once you work into po­si­tion, qui­etly de­velop a quick plan. We’re af­ter meat here, and we don’t want to be fill­ing the same mal­lard drake with mul­ti­ple 3-inch No. 2s. De­cide who’s shoot­ing the left side and who’s shoot­ing the right. If there are more than two peo­ple, al­ways as­sign ap­pro­pri­ate shoot­ing zones. The goal is for every­one to be bear­ing down—safely—on dif­fer­ent ducks.

“The ini­tial 20-gauge in­vest­ment didn’t break the bank, but when I be­gan re­search­ing mod­ern duck calls and de­coys, I freaked out.”

The Colder, the Bet­ter

Aside from good scout­ing and good shoot­ing, noth­ing will help you fill the freezer more than a good po­lar blast. When big wa­ter gets choked with ice, ducks aban­don it and head for creeks, rivers and slews in droves. Keep your smart­phone tuned to a weather app, and when a deep freeze is pre­dicted, cap­i­tal­ize.

(top) Small ponds like this one are good places to jump-shoot ducks. (be­low)

Watch the weather. A good smart­phone weather app is worth its weight in gold when watch­ing for up­com­ing cold fronts. (op­po­site) The author took this, his first-ever gold­en­eye, dur­ing a se­ri­ous cold front. PHOTOS BY JACE BAUSER­MAN

PHOTOS BY JACE BAUSER­MAN

(top) Hunter Bauser­man shot some mal­lards, gad­wall and a wid­geon jumped from a small pond that was just start­ing to freeze. (be­low) Burn­ing a lit­tle boot leather and scout­ing off-the-beaten path wa­ter lo­cales of­ten pay div­i­dends.

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