How hunting the X ruins your season (by Neal Cote)
By angelamontana

Posted: October 13, 2021

Waterfowl hunters are probably the most invasive type of hunters out there. We mostly stick to three basic plans that, in their execution, educate and adversely effect the birds in ways that make it progressively harder to be successful.

Here are the three plans, and a few changes that can improve your success.

Shooting Nighttime Water roost.

This is a very common tactic that hurts you. Birds find a place where they are comfortable to sleep. I know, pretty basic but those birds are there for a reason, they feel safe.

You as a hunter have scouted it and the next morning you get all of your gear and walk out to set up hours before shooting light. To set up you bump all those birds in the dark.Unbeknownst to you, you have just changed those bird’s daily pattern. You bumped them earlier forcing them to go to feed two hours earlier than they normally would have. Then you negative reinforce them by shooting the smaller bunches that come back right at shooting light.

This is probably the number one worst thing to do because you are forcing those birds to move much earlier before legal shooting time and they will move to locations where you are unable to hunt. Ever wonder why the majority of the birds group up on refuge ponds or private waters? Then they sit there all day and never fly, until 10 minutes after legal shooting time? This would be it.

Easy fix is to sit back and watch. Note when they naturally leave to go feed, and where. A lot of times you can wait and let the birds leave naturally then slip in after and set Now you are in a position to pick off a quick limit as the first few flocks return from feeding and then get out before the bulk of them return.  You don’t need a huge rig of decoys, and you get to set up in the daylight so you don’t put your decoys too close and you can get hid really good.

Shooting the X in a field

Here is another thing and if you think about it, it follows shooting night roosts. Birds are loading into a wheat field, you scout it and get permission. These birds have been hitting it for three days and you are thinking this is going to be a slam dunk.  You get out there early and get set up, and here come the birds!!! They circle and circle but don’t just dive in. So you move some decoys, nope. You get more stubble on the blinds, nope. What the heck?

Here’s where you messed up, you went right where the birds landed the night before. I know that every good TV waterfowl hunter tells you that you need to find the X and set up there, but ask yourself two things 1) can I hide there and 2) where is the sun going to come up or set.

Just because the birds are landing in a certain spot, doesn’t mean you need to be right there.  I’ve seen more field shoots bog down because the birds land short or come in and start circling around but don’t commit. They are seeing something they don’t like, and unfortunately all you are doing is educating them. Doesn’t matter how awesome your decoy spread is or how good of a caller you are. Every time they get burned like this teaches them to just move on to another feeding location.

With all the great lay down blinds on the market, they all have one drawback, the sun. Shadows create a big black spot especially on sunny days that the birds can see from a long ways. You can try to cover it up with decoys, but usually it backfires as putting more decoys right around the blinds just focuses where the birds are looking. Why would you want them looking right at you?  I have always been a big believer in walking a field before hunting so I can find the low spots as well as anywhere the stubble might be taller. I also will look at the edges, if I can find taller grass, rock piles, or grown in fences these are much better places to hide. Also think of where the sun is going to be, shadows are great places to hide, as well as putting the sun in the eyes of the birds as they come in.

Side shooting is another good idea, placing the blinds to the side takes them out of the line of sight of decoying birds. If you have the sun behind you, a decent low spot can make you almost invisible. Don’t be afraid to put decoys out quite a ways from the blinds, and use some of those as blockers to funnel the birds right where you want them.

Hunting the same place too many times

This is one that for some is unavoidable. You can only shoot a spot so many times before the birds don’t ever use it again. If you hunt local birds, they catch on really quick and do things that make it impossible to trick them. You go to the same pond or riverbank, put out your decoys in the same pattern and the birds ignore you. Unless you get a push of new birds, this is a no win scenario. Refuge areas that limit you to blind location can be tricky but there are things you can do to up your odds.

Scout them noting where they roost both night and day, what are their flight lines, and when are they moving. Pick your blind using that information, but expect someone else to also see and try for the same blind. Always have a second pick in mind and make sure you get there early. Also make sure to hunt the times of least pressure. Mid day can be deadly as the other hunters leave and the birds sneak back in once they are gone.

Match your decoy spread to what you have seen the birds doing. Smaller mixed spreads and decoys spread further apart with no pattern work well in the early season. Another way you can go is to bring everything you got and try to make the birds think this is where we are going today. Make sure to add both motion decoys and water movements to create a more realistic look.

Permanent blinds can be difficult for many reasons. Most times where I hunt, they don’t hide hunters really well. The birds can look right in as they circle. You can add cover, but most times changing the look of the blind will just make it stand out more. Figure out where you are the most hidden in them. Getting tight up against the side and not sitting on the permanent seats bring a small folding seat, adding a small piece of netting to create a shadow, and don’t leave anything on the seats!!! Try to make it look like no one is there, because a lot of these birds pick up on when no one is hunting.

Hopefully this helps both you and other hunters from messing up right off the bat and not giving the birds a premature education this fall, good luck out there!!!