An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
This section will give the hunter some general information
about all waterfowl. Waterfowl hunters may be hunting for one
species on a given day, but they do not normally hunt for a single
species all season long. However, it does happen that only one
species is in season, such as late season snow geese.
Water is the common denominator in habitat for these birds. As
water is a primary factor in food, shelter and space for waterfowl,
the biological need for water is easily satisfied. As with any other
group of animals, habitat requirements vary for different waterfowl.
While you may find large numbers of ducks on small creeks, geese
typically will look for larger bodies of water. Whatever the size of the waterbody, being on the water allows ducks and geese to leisurely
escape most predators, find food, and rest.
The diet of geese includes a high proportion of grass and leftover
grain in cultivated fields. They will eat aquatic plants, but tend
to feed more on dry land. Ducks fall into two categories: divers and
dabblers. Divers will dive underwater to find food in fairly deep water
while dabblers simply turn their tails up and feed a few inches
underwater. Both divers and dabblers eat vegetation in the water
along with snails and insects that are on the plants. Ducks will also
feed on leftover grain in croplands as it offers high energy food for
their migration needs.
Hunters can take advantage of these feeding habits by establishing
blinds in multiple locations. Goose blinds should be located
on larger bodies of water. Duck blinds could be established on
smaller bodies or near small wetlands. Pit blinds for ducks or geese
could be dug into cornfields or near winter wheat. When grain
fields are snow-covered, some hunters simply lay down under
white sheets amidst their decoys.
Most waterfowl are considered migratory; however, in Kentucky,
there are resident birds, particularly Canada geese. Those that
migrate use large sections of the continent for various life requirements.
Hunters can use this knowledge by watching the advance of
major winter storms in the northern parts of the Mississippi Flyway.
There will normally be large flocks of waterfowl arriving in Kentucky
within a few days when the storms and cold weather grip the northern
Resident geese in Kentucky and farther north are adapted to
urban areas. Many cities offer sanctuary from hunters, food on golf
courses, and water sources in parks. These birds only migrate in
extreme weather conditions, and then only temporarily. In some areas,
they have been noted to move several hundred miles east/west
rather than south. They move just far enough to survive, then return
to the protected area of residence when milder weather returns.
Know the Basics
The best way to learn to hunt waterfowl is to find a trusted
friend and learn from him or her. However, each hunter should prepare
to be the best hunter he or she can be.
There are a host of waterfowl hunting gadgets and advertised advancements,
need to start
with basics. First,
study the waterfowl
guide so you
know state and
federal rules. Recommended
include a 12 guage
choke, calls (with
lots of practice)
and good working
decoys that are
Clothing should be dull colored, and waterproof, and your footwear should also be
waterproof. Your hat or cap should have a bill to shade your eyes.
Finally, always include a life jacket if you will spend any time on
Know Waterfowl Species
Each hunter should be able to identify various species and distinguish
males from females (mallards) as the birds fly toward the
blind. Identifying features include color, size, silhouette, and call.
The flight or resting pattern can also help you identify species at a
distance. Certain species may be protected in a given year or have
greatly reduced harvest. By early identification, the hunter can pass
up a shot on a given bird and help conserve that species for the
Practice your Calling and Shooting Before Hunting
As with most hunting, preparation will result in higher success
rates. A new waterfowl hunter should consult tapes and videos for
appropriate calls at different stages of the flock’s approach. The
shooting practice is difficult to simulate. Waterfowl are approaching
from out of range and high, while target shooting is usually practiced on targets going away. However, through practice, shooters
will be not only become better at moving targets, they will also be
more aware of appropriate range for an effective shot.
Early Season versus Late Season Ducks
In the early part of the fall, wood ducks and teal are available in
Kentucky. As the season progresses, these smaller birds may leave
with any given cold front. The smaller ducks are fast flyers, turn
quickly and take advantage of nearby cover.
The birds that arrive from the north early in the season will primarily
be hens with their broods. The young of the year birds are
smaller and are more drab colored.
Mallards and other large ducks that arrive from the northern
nesting areas later in the season will consist mainly of drakes and
hens that did not nest successfully. These late season birds will usually
be the most colorful. The larger ducks tend to be slower and
steadier. Every group of waterfowl offers the hunter unique challenges
in wing shooting.
Land Based Blinds
All blinds have a few things in common. They are intended to allow
the hunter to hide near appropriate habitat to be in range of incoming
birds. They will normally have seats and shooting windows.
It is best to have an experienced hunter that can “call the shots” for
the entire blind.
Land based blinds can be permanent sites that are dug into locations
that provide hunting year after year or they can be quickly
assembled temporary blinds. In both cases, using the available vegetation
from the location, willows, oaks, high grass, or reeds, will
help make the blind blend into the natural setting.
Having a blind mounted on a boat allows the hunter to move
easily. Boat blinds can be advantageous to move away from wind
swept flats to more secluded areas. As they are floating, the hunters
must be very patient and still to avoid boat movement and noise.
Hunters in boat blinds should include face covers in their hunting
cloths. Always wear a personal floatation device, as it is easy to lose
your balance if you stand up to shoot.
Sun at Your Back
Plan your blind with the birds looking into the sun as they approach.
This will require different locations for morning and afternoon
hunts. Using sun direction gives you, the hunter several advantages.
First, you will have much better vision and be able to pick
out the drakes. Second, the birds will not be able to pick up details
as well looking into direct and reflected sunlight. Finally, glints of
light from your gun barrel or face will be reduced with the sun shining
on the back of your blind.
Setting up the Decoys
The setting of your spread depends on wind, sun, cover and
water conditions. Leave space for the birds to alight that is within
shooting range of the blind. If hunting in flooded timber or on overflow water, leave an opening in the woods or light brush.
To Call or Not to Call
When hunting waterfowl, it is important to know when to call
loudly or softly. To attract a flock of birds to your spread, you need
to call loudly. As they are turning toward you, a softer call is in order.
As they circle the blind, a slower soft call will keep them interested.
If they circle initially but appear to be leaving, return to louder
calls. Don’t call at all if the birds are directly over the blind. Once
the birds are established on flight to the decoys, stop calling. Now is
the time to pick your targets and ready yourself for the shots.
Alter Your Spread of Decoys
Altering your spread is usually accomplished on small spreads
when birds are shying from your decoys on the swing. It may be required
for the day’s conditions and can change hour to hour. If you
are shooting over a large spread with an experienced hunter, there
is normally less need to alter your spread on a day to day basis.
Large decoy spreads usually take into account various weather and
Size and Speed are Deceiving
If you have been hunting ducks, the first flock of geese will
cause distance perception. As the birds are much larger, you will
think they are in range when they are not. A good rule of thumb is
if the end of the gun barrel covers half the bird, it is probably out of range. Another visual effect is rate of wing beat. While a goose wing
beat is only about half that of mallards, the flight speed is approximately
the same. By using the same “swing and follow through”
techniques for all wing shooting, this perception is eliminated.
When shooting birds that you are calling into the blind, remember
to shoot them as they come in, not going away.
Field dressing waterfowl is reasonably easy. With a sharp pocket
knife, split the skin below the tip of the breast, reach inside the
body cavity, and remove the internal organs. The membranes holding
the intestinal tract in place at the tail can be cut afield to completely
remove the intestines. Removing the insides allows the meat
to cool, and wiping the body cavity to remove intestinal fluids will
prevent the meat from being tainted.
If the hunter wants a roosted duck or goose, most birds can be
plucked. They can be dry picked or scalded. By dipping the bird in
water, heated to around 180 degrees, the feathers can be saturated
and removed by rubbing. Some people who pick the feathers also
cover the bird with a layer of melted wax, then remove the dried
wax to remove fine feathers. Wing feathers may be pulled or the
wing can be discarded. If you plan on serving only the breast, it can
either be skinned or plucked.
There is a substantial layer of fat under the skin of waterfowl, and
cooking with this fat attached will keep the meat moist. However, you may want to cook in a manner that allows the fat to drain away
from the bird.
As with other game, cover all parts of each bird in water and
freeze them. If you plan to freeze plucked ducks or geese, plan on
using the birds earlier than you would other game. The fat under the
skin can become foul quicker than the meat, and can spoil the taste
of the birds.
Duck Breasts in Gravy
Vernon Anderson, Retired,
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources