Hunting waterfowl in Western Montana can be summarized in one simple acronym. With the lack of cold, snow, and new birds it’s tough, but follow this simple plan, and you will be successful.
Scouting is by far the most important thing any waterfowler needs to add to their toolbox. I’m not just talking about driving around and finding birds standing in the fields or swimming in a pond or river, but watching how and when they move. It’s pretty easy to find night roosts and feeding fields, and most hunters will think they have a plan, but they might be making a big mistake. Shooting overnight sleeping roosts is one of the biggest. These are usually bigger open water areas from ponds, rivers, or warm water springs. The Birds usually come in to these right at dark and sleep overnight. Sneaking in to these to set up is not a good idea, especially if you bump them in the dark, because they are not coming back here until after shooting light. You set up, get one go and poof no birds come back. Jump shoot them and they are NEVER coming back!!! Stay all day and wait them out and you are trying to pick up as they are coming back in the dark. The birds have a easy decision, find another roost…
A better idea is to wait and watch the birds leave and follow them. They will usually fly to food, then from there to a day water roost, back to food, and finally back to the night roost at dark.
If you are a water guy, finding a day roost is key. You can take your time with set up because those birds are going to feed first then be coming to you to get a drink and a nap before heading back to feed. Now if you’re a field guy, you can set up where they are feeding. This is where it starts to get tricky, do you shoot a big feed? It is almost like a night water roost, thump them here all day, they won’t be back tomorrow. A good bet is a smaller decoy spread, get in, get your birds in the first 2-3 flocks and get out before the rest show up. Do this and you can shoot the feed almost every day until you have shot at all the flocks. Another way is to set up short of the feed in different field and traffic shoot. You won’t have every flock come in, but if your calling is good and have a bigger decoy spread, you can pull plenty in for a shoot.
It doesn’t matter where you go, if the birds see you before they are in range, you might as well go home. Staying and trying to hope some make a mistake is even worse because now your just educating them not to come here any more.
Hide your blinds so you can’t see them, and be aware of the shadow it casts. Make sure to match your surroundings, get grass from near where you are set up, blue glowing snow covers don’t work even with grass tucked in every other stubble strap. Take the extra time to completely hide you, your dog, and your partners, and you will triple the amount of birds you get in range. Setting up for wind is the basic consideration, but also accounting for sun position and direction that the birds are going to come from are also big parts of the puzzle. Setting up right on the “X” is fine if you can hide, but often it exposes you to the birds. Side shooting is often a better choice, letting the birds focus in on the decoys, with the blinds hidden off to the side keeps you hidden.
Calling, especially in the late season, can make or break any hunt. Call too much, and you are flaring and educating birds. It is a fine line, which most hunters break. Reading birds reaction to your calls is the key. Do just enough to get their attention, once you’ve got them coming, do just enough to keep them coming. Listen to those birds and mimic them as close as you can. With geese, if you can get a call and response going with just one of them, it can be awesome. Take the time to learn to make your calling as accurate to the real birds. Just putting out a ton of sound doesn’t work. If you think your calling isn’t good, guess what, it isn’t. Focus on smaller sounds like a slow feeding call with a few light hen Mallard quacks for ducks and the murmuring of Canada’s on the ground as they jockey around looking for food.
Follow the SCC’s and you will become a much better waterfowler, both in the late season and year round. Good luck out on the Grind!!!