Fowl Weather: Keep your hunting hot when temps turn cold

By: Brennan Kohls

It was a cold, windy, late November morning in 2010. My dad, dog and I sat on the bank of a shallow river surrounded by trees. Our spread of a dozen decoys bobbed up and down. The wind swayed the tops of the trees. The dark, cloudy sky covered the sun. We hadn’t seen many birds that morning as most were hunkered down on other parts of the river, but out of nowhere came a pair of wood ducks.

Their wings whistled as they weaved through the trees. They were intent on landing in the decoys. We waited for what seemed like hours to shoot, but was merely just a few seconds. I put my Winchester 1200 pump on fire and raised the gun. My dad fired first. We dropped one of them as the other veered off. My old black lab rushed into the water to retrieve the bird.

On those cold, windy and sometimes even snowy days that all duck hunters love, ducks are pretty hard to find, let alone shoot. Ducks behave much differently on bad weather days. They don’t want to fly, and, in fact, they don’t want to move very much at all. They just want to get out of the wind. Here are some good places to shoot puddle ducks for those bad weather days we know are coming.

Shallow Rivers: When most ponds are either frozen or too open on windy cold days, you will find mallards and wood ducks sitting on rivers. When finding the right river, look for shallow spots with depths from half-a-foot to four-feet deep. On those cold days, the only ducks you’re going to find in giant, open, 12-foot-deep lakes are canvasbacks and other diving ducks.

Once you have found the right river, you have to find a spot that is out of the wind, so for most rivers, getting out of the wind means finding a spot that is surrounded by trees. Next, find a spot that the current is not super fast.

There are many reasons not to set up on fast moving water, the first one being your decoys have a good chance of floating away, and, let me tell you, chasing after decoys moving down a fast river in heavy chest waders is NOT fun.

The second reason is ducks are looking to rest easy on those days. They don’t want to be constantly swimming to stay in one spot. They want to find a nice, quiet, slow moving part of the river.

And, third, it can be dangerous. Walking in chest waders outside of water is hard enough to keep your balance, and walking through water in them is worse. One wrong step in fast moving water, and you can be swept under and quite possibly drown with all your heavy gear. No duck is worth dying for, so if you can find a shallow, slow-moving, out-of-the-wind river on a cold, windy day, you have a fairly good chance of bagging some ducks.

Tall Weed Ponds: Another spot that you can check for ducks on a really cold, windy day is a pond surrounded by tall weeds, meaning cattails of some sort. On most ponds there is always a corner that is out of the wind and enclosed with weeds,  and if you sit on the corner of the pond with your spread nice and close together out in the water, you have a good chance of shooting ducks.

Trying to find one of these ponds is fairly easy. Usually on most duck ponds there is a corner that is enclosed with cattails. So finding a pond with this is as simple as can be, but the tricky part is finding the right pond because there are so many.

On windy days, ducks don’t feed much. They just want to get out of the wind. Calling will be mostly useless if it is a high wind day, so a Mojo spinning wing decoy will go a long ways. If you can find a cattail pond with some cover for the ducks, you will probably get some shooting.

Picked Cornfield: During cold days, the ducks will be feeding all day long. If you have a picked cornfield that you know of, there will be ducks there on a cold day. As stated before on windy days, unless the birds are downwind from you, calling is pretty much worthless; no birds will be able to hear you. I would recommend a spinning wing decoy, like a Mojo Duck, and if you’re hunting geese, a flag would work well.

So on those windy and cold November days we always have here in Iowa, try to find a nice quiet, slow-moving and shallow river, a cattail-sheltered corner of a pond close to known duck feeding grounds or a picked cornfield. If you try this on a day that is cold and windy, you will likely see some birds. Keep in mind that by this time most teal are gone, so this article pertains more to mallards and wood ducks. Just remember a spinning wing decoy can go a long ways on windy days. Good Luck!

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