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