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Hunting the Other, Other Ducks

By Gilbert Arndt - November 1, 2002
Just as the first month of the 2002 Duck Season, is winding down, hardcore waterfowlers are looking to "Big Waters" & Divers. With unseasonably cold weather this season, Divers are already showing up in this area! My clients have not only been harvesting Ringbills, but Bluebill, & Bufflehead are showing up in our game bag! I have also decoyed some nice flocks of Canvasback this season as well. I hope this is a sign of better days for these birds, as I have seen quite a few already this season. Hopefully waterfowlers will exercise caution when hunting, and identify these ducks before shooting!

Diver hunting requires a few different skills, & approaches, than pursuing Puddlers, so lets start at the beginning! The first and most important difference ,would be equipment. Because you are hunting "big",windswept, waters, on "Bad Weather" days, a boat capable of handling such waters is needed. I personally prefer a wide & deep 16ft. or bigger v-hull boat. Some larger versions of jonboats will work, but in the "best" Diver weather, a v-hull will provide a safe ride out & back home! Large boats are also needed because of the larger amount of decoys, and cold weather gear needed. It can get pretty crowded even in a 16ft aluminum, with 6 or more dozen decoys, a large dog, & 2 to 4 hunters. Another note on safety, is to make sure your motor is in good running order, & the batteries are fully charged. Cold ,rough ,weather, can get dangerous in a hurry, if you don't have power, or your lights, or bilge pump doesn't work!

The next most important factor is decoys! In Diver hunting large ,groups of decoys attract birds faster than any other factor. I personally like to set out 2 dozen Bluebill, 2 dozen Redhead, & a dozen Ringbill to start. In the years we can hunt Canvasback, I also add at least a dozen Magnum "Cans" to the spread. In addition, because we also harvest Mallards on Puckaway, I like to add 1 to 2 dozen Mallard dekes, preferrably Magnums. On a typical setup I put the Bluebill, & Redhead "blocks" in a J formation , facing into the wind. The farthest decoys will be about 40 to 50 yards out max, to not only create a "landing zone" in range, but hopefully to keep ducks from landing outside of the decoys. Along the weed edge, or shoreline, I like to place the Mallards, as this setup is more natural to the birds. Remember, regulations state you cannot place decoys more than 200ft from the cover you are hunting in.

The next skill required is calling! A Diver call is simple to master, but it is difficult to find calls of this type. You are trying to reproduce the "purring" sound made by Drake Bluebill,Ringbill,Redhead, & Canvasback. As a rule the hens are less vocal at this time of year,especially compared to Puddler hens. As the flock approaches, or passes your setup, using this "purring" call, can be the finisher to bring them in.

At this point I would like to throw in my 2 cents worth on Steel Shot. Divers are fast moving, hard to hit ducks, and cripples can be very difficult for dogs to catch up to. Typically, on the wind swept waters they swim, with the wind, & dive deep. for long periods of time , making recovery sometimes impossible! In my experience guiding the last few years, an average of half the ducks shot using steel, within 25 yards, still are "swimmers" and

need finishing shots. This season, I have tried Hevi-Shot, myself, and have had clients using Tungsten, as well. We have very few "swimmers", & the ones that do swim, die sooner, as they are heart shot. I have cleaned many birds shot with Steel, at close range, and found pellets barely penetrating the skin. Usually Hevi-Shot passes through the bird, and the only complaint is it sometimes tears up bone! Of course the main complaint about this shot is cost, but if you figure in an average of 2 to 1 shells,finishing cripples the cost is not far off. I am not sponsored by Remington, or any shell manufacturer, but I see too many cripples lost by hunters due to steel shot. The bad side to using this type of shot is I feel it will promote skybusting. There, Ive gotten that off my chest, now on with Diver hunting.

The final piece in the puzzle is location. Divers will raft up in large groups on open water for safety, and pass up & down the lake or river, to their feeding spots. If possible on windy days, setup in open bays next to the main lake,that are sheltered from the wind. These will become resting places to get out of the wind for the divers. Another setup is to place decoys on points of islands, or shoreline, along travel routes Divers take passing to & from feeding areas. Divers will typically be looking for foods such as snails in mucky areas turned up by the waves, so again scouting is important.

Diver hunting basically is location, and proper equipment. Of course the main factor is weather. With last years "warm" fall the push of late Divers never came during the season. This season , our unseasonably cold weather, particularely to the North, will cause things to happen fast. I just hope the weather doesn,t turn cold too fast, resulting in only a few fast days of hunting The Other---Other Ducks!

Good Luck in the Great Outdoors!!!

Author Gilbert Arndt

Gilbert Arndt
Besides being Field Editor for Lake Puckaway on, Gil Arndton the Primos Pro-Staff, a freelance outdoor writer, videographer and hunting and fishing guide, with almost 20 years experience hunting bears. Gil owns and operates Lone Wolf Guide Service & Outdoor Videography which offers bear hunts, turkey hunts, waterfowl hunts, fishing on Lake Puckaway, as well as videotaping hunts, fishing ,or promotions for outdoor products or businesses. You can contact Gil at (920)394-3138, or email at [email protected].
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