Get a deal on a duck lease

Think­ing of a duck lease? Here’s what to know be­fore spend­ing the money

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - by JOHN GOR­DON

THE HUNTERS SHOOK them­selves from sleep with a strong mix of sugar and caf­feine. A blast of Arc­tic air was stir­ring, and an­tic­i­pa­tion ran high for a great hunt. As the eastern sky bright­ened, shot­guns rum­bled in the dis­tance. Other blinds shot their lim­its—but our hunters waited for ac­tion that never came. They went home with no birds and a strong feel­ing that money and time had been wasted.

More and more wa­ter­fowlers are opt­ing to lease pri­vate prop­erty for hunt­ing, and ev­ery sea­son there are myr­iad op­tions avail­able. Some are good, while oth­ers are lit­tle more than an ex­pen­sive mud­hole void of ducks. How do you know if the place you’re shop­ping is worth the coin? Here are three rules to con­sider.

LO­CA­TION, LO­CA­TION

It is every­thing, and it’s never been eas­ier to see the full story of a prop­erty and all that sur­rounds it than it is to­day. Sev­eral on­line land ap­pli­ca­tions can re­veal prop­erty bound­aries, nearby refuges, topo­graph­i­cal de­tails, satel­lite views, and

more in a mat­ter of sec­onds.

Look for nat­u­ral mi­gra­tion cor­ri­dors such as rivers and creeks, and pay close at­ten­tion to land shape. Long and ir­reg­u­lar crop fields in a sea of rec­tan­gu­lar ones are often in­dica­tive of for­mer riverbeds that im­printed ducks and geese have used for gen­er­a­tions.

Wa­ter­fowlers most com­monly lease flooded crops, with corn top­ping the list and rice run­ning a close sec­ond. But you need to ask the farmer about crop ro­ta­tion be­fore leas­ing for the long term. In the South, a field that was good one sea­son could be planted in cot­ton the fol­low­ing year. Also, en­sure the farmer un­der­stands the laws on crop ma­nip­u­la­tion for wa­ter­fowl hunt­ing. Knock- ing down stand­ing crops is usu­ally con­sid­ered bait­ing. Make sure to have ac­cess paths to blinds cre­ated be­fore­hand to avoid un­in­ten­tional vi­o­la­tions.

WA­TER

A per­ma­nent wet­land such as a slough or swamp has ad­van­tages. Most of these nat­u­ral duck holes have been there for gen­er­a­tions, and mi­grat­ing ducks and geese re­turn to them year af­ter year.

Many crop fields must be pumped, though, and that wa­ter is pro­vided by fuel and wells. It’s not cheap to flood a field. If your field must be ar­ti­fi­cially flooded, be sure that oft-hid­den ex­pense is dis­cussed up front. Some leases have “guar­an­teed” wa­ter built into the con­tract, but even then, be ex­plicit on who is in charge of, and pays for, the pump tim­ing, the wa­ter­con­trol struc­tures, and the drain­ing of the field af­ter the sea­son. Dry years may re- quire more than one pump­ing to main­tain wa­ter lev­els.

AMENI­TIES

A ba­sic lease cov­ers one or maybe a cou­ple of hunt­ing ar­eas. These will nor­mally have pit or up­right blinds al­ready on site that are part of the deal. Lodg­ing and gear stor­age will be off-site and up to you.

Other leases are turnkey— they have every­thing needed in place (and a price to re­flect it). Much of the time, a lease like this will be part of a club. Club mem­ber­ship is pop­u­lar but not with­out its pros and cons. The big­gest ad­van­tage is his­tory. Duck clubs that have been around for many years have often added and re­leased prop­erty, de­vel­oped re­la­tion­ships with farm­ers, and built fa­cil­i­ties. Most of them have track records too. Talk to cur­rent and for­mer mem­bers. What was the hunt­ing like dur­ing the best years? How was it dur­ing the tough sea­sons? Good clubs should be will­ing to pro­vide har­vest records and con­tact in­for­ma­tion for pre­vi­ous mem­bers.

Do your home­work and be selective. With help from Mother Na­ture, a lease can pro­vide your best duck sea­son ever.

A PER­MA­NENT WET­LAND SUCH AS A SLOUGH OR SWAMP HAS AD­VAN­TAGES.

Spend­ing money on the right lease can be one of the best in­vest­ments a wa­ter­fowler can make.

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