Hunting Diver Ducks - Waterfowlings' Romantic AdventureBy Gilbert Arndt - November 1, 2001
Extreme weather, wind, cold, big windswept, rough lakes of the north, all are associated with the romance of "diver hunting". This is not your flooded timber, southern, Arkansas, Mississippi,Lousiana, standing in waders hunting, for Mallards. This is hunting more often done in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, on big open lakes, and rivers. Big rivers like the Mississippi, lakes like Superior, Michigan in Wisconsin, Winnibigoshish in Minnesota, and of course the famous Chesapeake Bay in the east, all are traditional diver haunts. But especially to me diver hunting means lakes like Puckaway, Poygan, and Lake Butte Des Morts!!! While I have not done much hunting on the latter two lakes, I do have an intimate knowledge of Puckaway, which while shallow enough to wade, when windy the waves would just come over the top of your waders anyway.
This leads us to another reason for the extreme measures needed to be taken for diver hunting, big boats, big decoy spreads, and big dogs! Even though some hunters do take the chance, this is the place for big 14 to 16 foot or bigger, v-bottom boats to handle the rough water. I know from experience, that big shallow lakes like Puckaway, can become dangerous in a hurry! This also leads us to a problem ( or an excuse) I encountered yesterday, when I was out on Puckaway. When the waves are rolling across that big lake, you need to stabilize your boat somewhat, or you will be like me yesterday, missing easy shots, because you are bobbing up and down in the boat!
Another advantage of a big boat is the room needed to store all the decoys! In diver hunting your decoy spread and location, is more important than calling expertise. I believe this could be the reason for more of a tradition towards calling in the southern states, as oppossed to the northern states. By late season when the Mallards are getting "educated", most fair weather duck hunters are deer hunting, and the diehards are diver hunting. Don't get me wrong, calling is needed for divers, but being less vocal than puddlers, they are more attracted by large decoy spreads.
How many "dekes" are enough to pull the "Cans", Bluebills, Redheads, and other divers to your layout? Well whatever you can afford to buy, and can fit in the boat, is a good start. But you can get by with 2 to 3 dozen, while I have seen some hunters with as many as 100 decoys. Typically divers will raft up on more open water in big groups, versus puddlers, who are looking for the safety of cover, so much bigger setups are needed. Also because of the increased amount of decoys involved, and the rougher water, most hunters string out groups of "blocks", on a single line, with a single "big" anchor. This not only holds decoys better, but speeds up time in pulling the setup!
Last but not least is "big dogs". Diver hunting in extreme weather, on big lakes, is not a place for smaller types of retrievers, who cannot take the cold. Big, powerful Labs, and Chesapeakes, like my 90 plus pound Black Lab, "Bear", who not only are strong swimmers, but must have the "heart" to keep going during adverse conditions, are what's needed! Even the best dogs cannot handle all conditions, so watch your dogs behavior. Sometimes, those wounded swimmers, can pull a dog too far out on a retrieve, so use your judgement, and have the boat ready to go just in case!!!
Besides the adverse conditions of diver hunting, I believe the colorful, and uncommon species of ducks, are what draw newcomers to this sport. In addition, to Bluebill, Ringbill, Redhead, and Canvasback, we also harvest Bufflehead, Goldeneye, and like last Saturday, even some Oldsquaw, can be seen on Puckaway!!! Of course for those wanting some easy shooting, there is the Ruddy Duck, the tough part is getting the Ruddies to offer a flying shot. Hopefully the decline in Bluebill, and Canvasback will take a turnaround in the near future, and offer increased oppotunities for the hunter in years to come!!!
Well, the wind is still blowing, and I see a few more snow flurries, Its time for this "Diver Duck Hunter" to see if I am tough enough to survive this, "perfect weather", and not get blown away, or freeze!!!
Until next time: Good Luck in the Great Outdoors!!!