National expert gives 4 time-tested rules for successful waterfowl hunting
It wasn't the best training ground in one sense.
Field Hudnall grew up pursuing ducks and geese on the Ohio River near Louisville, Ky. It remains to this day, he will tell you, “one of the most consistent bad spots I've ever hunted.”
But he's done OK since. Owner of Field Proven Calls and co-host of Ducks Unlimited TV, he learned enough in those tough circumstances to go on to hunt in 30 states and four Canadian provinces and win multiple calling championships along the way.
So, in short, if he says there are four real keys to waterfowling, it pays to listen.
“These four rules, if you can master them, you can be successful waterfowl hunting every time you go out,” Hudnall said.
And what are they?
This is the most important consideration, Hudnall said. But by location, he doesn't mean a particular place in the country.
Rather, he's talking about being in the one spot the birds most want to be. That can vary day to day or even by time of day.
In Kentucky, for example, ducks and geese may fill a small impoundment overnight, feeding all the while. Come daybreak, though, they want to rest on the river, even if that's only 50 yards away.
That's the place to hunt, he said.
Likewise, in Kentucky's horse country, a pasture may hold no appeal to geese one day. After a snow storm, though, he said, when the geese can't tell what's an empty field and what was recently full of crops, decoys in a pasture really can draw birds in.
“Whatever your situation is, you want to look at it and ask yourself, what's the best situation on a daily basis?” Hudnall said.
Find the location where the birds like to congregate is step one. Next to figure out is, will they still come into that spot if you're there?
“You going to that spot is the new variable. Will those birds continue to go there with you being there?” Hudall asked.
“They will, but only if you hide properly.”
Your “hide” can depend on what you're hunting, he said.
“A duck is a helicopter. A Canada goose is a 747 airplane. They need runways, they need room, especially on water,” Hudnall said.
“You want to think about how those geese are going to approach.”
They won't fly directly into a river bank, for example. So in that situation, Hudnall might hide in such a way in relation to his decoys that the geese will come in on a crosswind as opposed to straight on.
“It's not as easy a shot, true. But on a crosswind, they're focusing on my decoys and not me,” he said.
Speaking of decoys, it's one thing to attract geese and ducks to the field or pond you're hunting.
“But if you're hunting a 100-acre field, you don't want them to land just anywhere,” Hudnall said.
What's going to make them set down within 5, 10, 15 yards of you?
“The decoys are,” Hudnall said.
The key is to set them out in such a way that incoming birds present themselves for a shot.
In a field, Hudnall puts his decoys bit away from the blind, rather than right in front of it. Similarly, on small ponds, he specifically puts the decoys farther rather than closer to him.
That's because the birds don't want to land in the middle of the decoys. They're looking for open water, Hudnall said.
Provide that landing zone closer to the blind than the decoys, he said.
“Think of it as putting your decoys where you don't want the birds to go,” he said.
Calling is the favorite part of hunting for many, and that's OK, Hudnall said. It's certainly true for him.
Some also might think calling is the most important part of waterfowling, though, he added. That's not so OK.
“The call is a tool. That's all it is,” he said. “Some days it works great. Some days you might as well leave it in your bag in the truck.”
Calls are meant to show enthusiasm and excitement. But that's relative, he said. He suggested thinking of calls as the volume on a stereo.
“You've got zero to 10,” Hudnall said. “You don't want to give them a 10 right off the bat.”
It's better to start calling at a one, then go to a three if needed, then a five or whatever after that.
“The effective caller is not the caller who can blow 100 mph. The effective caller is that hunter who has learned to watch the birds and learned to crank up the intensity as needed,” Hudnall said.
Can you master those four things, or at least get proficient at them? If so, expect good results, Hudnall said.
“I don't care what or where you hunt across the country, they're the four common denominators that are most important,” he said.