Jump Shoot Ducks
For the average hunter without a lot of waterfowling gear, any pond, creek or river may provide a chance to hunt ducks.
I am always looking for a way to extend my hunting season and add new species to my game bag. Each season I experiment with tactics and pore over the hunting regulations memorizing opening dates and trying to work out a schedule as to when I can hunt certain animals. A few years back I decided that ducks would be a worthy quarry, so I started doing some research on their habitats and different hunting methods.
Duck hunting is usually thought of as a very specialized type of hunting that requires special duck boats, large decoy spreads, and well-trained, hard working retrievers. A set of duck calls could set you back a couple of hundred dollars and many dedicated hunters spend hours practicing and refining their calling. Serious duck hunters also seem to have a fondness for harsh weather, and you can bet they will be out well before daylight.
Traditional duck hunting wasn’t an option for me because I didn’t have all of the equipment. Instead I choose a more bare bones approach to duck hunting, called jump shooting. There is no need to break the bank in order to get outfitted. As a matter of fact, if you do any type of hunting at all, you have probably got all of the gear already.
You can hunt in any weather conditions and at any time of the day.
Jump shooting is a simple, yet effective way to hunt ducks. The basic principal is to get close to some ducks on the water, then startle them so that they “jump” into the air and start flying. Once you jump them, you start shooting and hopefully bring one or two back down.
There are a couple of different approaches to jump shooting. There is the “spot-and-stalk” method, where you walk or wade along a pond or river and upon spotting your quarry you initiate a stalk trying to get as close as possible to the ducks. Another option is to float down a river or work your way around the edge of a pond in a boat. Generally, this type of hunting will involve quicker and more sudden shots because you may be unaware of a duck until it starts flying.
I do most of my duck hunting on public land. There are a number of WMAs that have ponds, swamps, large creeks or rivers that may harbor ducks, and national forests have some prime duck habitat as well. I also have a few farm ponds and creeks on private land that I hunt.
Usually I find likely looking places while I am fishing in the summer, then check back at these locations come duck season. But more than once I have jumped up some ducks while going to a deer stand or while squirrel hunting a creek bottom. Looking at maps of your area or maps of WMAs is a good starting point to finding good duck-hunting grounds.
I approach this type of hunting much the same as I do big-game hunting. I’ll find a good spot where I can see a majority of the pond and thoroughly scan the entire area, sometimes twice to be sure that I do not miss anything. Once I spot a duck, I identify it, then plan my stalk. I try to determine where the duck may go based on which way it is facing, then the stalk is started. I do not think twice about belly crawling to get within range of a duck.
The first time I killed a duck, I was hunting a pair of ponds in Jasper County. One pond was above the other pond, and I was heading out to the upper dam to glass both ponds. As I neared the dam I spotted movement and immediately saw four mallards, two hens and two drakes. My first thought was ‘there’s my limit of mallards,’ and I began to get excited. The ducks had seen me and were swimming up the bank, so I put my face mask and gloves on and loaded my gun. There was not much cover between me and the ducks, so I dropped to all fours and slowly moved toward a point on the bank. As I got closer to the water, I was forced to go all the way to my belly to finish off the last few yards. It was not easy, but I wound up bagging a nice mallard drake.
see you from a distance, but if they do, they will usually just swim away rather than fly off. Now you are back at square one, and this time you should be extra careful not to be seen because you run the risk of spooking them.
Personal preference should be the determining factor in which guns to use, as most shotguns will be sufficient. I prefer a 12-gauge pump gun simply because that is what I am most comfortable with. Steel, or other non-toxic shot is mandatory with the size shot being around No. 2. Your best bet would be to test different loads to see what size you think works the best.
Choke size is another consideration, and you will want a fairly tight choke, I use a modified choke, since most of the shooting will be done at close range at relatively slow-moving birds. Again, testing several chokes with different-size shells will determine what works best in your gun. It is important to remember that when you are jump shooting you are shooting almost parallel to the ground, so you want to be sure that no one is fishing or roaming the banks nearby as they might be in your line of fire.
The next consideration is clothing. You will want to dress according to the weather conditions, but keep in mind that you will be constantly moving and generating heat. If you will be spotting and stalking, full camouflage, with face mask and gloves, is a must. Another important item is something to hold extra shells and birds. I prefer a vest because it gives me extra pockets and keeps shells easily accessible, as well as having a convenient place to keep my ducks or shed clothing.
One item that I view as a necessity is a good set of binoculars. These come in handy when hunting a large lake, but they can also be useful to scan upcoming river bends or long stretches of river. Binoculars will save you a lot of legwork. You can use them to scan the far side of a pond or look up into a cove. You can easily scan a pond, and if there are no ducks move somewhere else. It’s better than walking around the whole pond wasting time and energy. Not only will they tell you if ducks are present, but you can also tell what species and determine if they are legal to shoot.
Last season I spotted a duck about 70 yards off in a small pond in Newton County. I made a good 45-minute stalk, which included crawling through a briar patch, only to discover that I was not sure what kind of duck it was, so I left that duck alone and went searching for another one. If I had my binoculars with me, I could have saved myself hundreds of briar pricks, not to mention all of that time that could have been better spent looking for a duck that I knew I could shoot.
When scanning a pond you should take your time and very carefully cover the banks. Ducks have a knack for blending in perfectly with brush on the bank and may easily be overlooked. Keep a keen eye out for ripples or any disturbance on the water that may indicate ducks might be around. Be sure to keep an eye to the sky as you are hunting because you may catch some flying ducks as well.
Once you get as close as possible, you try to jump the ducks up. Rising quickly to your knees or fully standing may work. If they do not immediately pick up you may try walking toward them. After you get them up, you just choose one and shoot. Most of the time you will have enough time to get a couple of shots off before the ducks get out of range.
Now comes the fun part, retrieving your bird. Hopefully you have planned ahead and have a way of getting the duck. If you are lucky, it may have fallen close to shore and you can reach it without getting wet. Otherwise, you may need to use a boat or a pair of waders. Waders are the easiest option, as they can be worn during the hunt or kept in the truck and quickly put on after a kill. It also may be a good idea to keep a spare set of clothes with you as well, especially if you are wading. No matter how careful I am, I always end up getting a boot full of water. It seems I have a sixth sense for finding the deep holes or slick rocks, and that frigid winter water is nothing to fool around with, so needless to say always have an extra pair of socks and pants in the truck.
Just the same as any other hunting, you never know what you will come across in the field. One of my most exciting duck hunts did not involve any ducks. I was walking out to a small, neglected wet-weather pond. I had been there many times and knew that it was usually good for a woodie or two. As I neared the pond, I dropped to my hands and knees to minimize my profile. The grass was pretty thick and that helped to hide my approach, I was slowly crawling along, scanning the pond for any movement when all of the sudden there was an explosion of fur right in front of my face. I am certainly glad that I was hunting alone that day because I was running like a scalded dog across that pasture headed for the truck. I finally realized that it was just a rabbit and also noticed that my gun was still back there on the ground.
Geese are another target that should not be overlooked. With the abundance of geese in Georgia, you are likely to encounter them in many places along with ducks. There is an extended season for them as well, to try and reduce the number of resident birds.
Taking advantage of the early goose season this year, I headed over to a farm in Newton County to try and bag a few geese. There were about two dozen birds that regularly occupied a small pond and the surrounding pasture, and the landowner wanted to get rid of some of them. When I arrived the geese were in the pasture feeding, and there was a nice hill that I thought would allow me to get close to them. However, I wasn’t about to get within range, so I had to double back and use another small rise that I thought would get me closer. I probably belly crawled 100 yards or so through this pasture, paying careful attention to where I was going (a cardinal rule when doing anything in a cow pasture). There was just no good cover that would get me within range of this flock, so instead of waiting I just kept crawling hoping the tall grass would hide me. It did not, and the geese got nervous and took off before I could get within range.
Disappointed, I began the walk back to the truck, but as I crossed over the pond dam I saw in the corner of the pond a lone goose just standing there. I cut back around the pond and was able to get within range, jump it up, and make the shot.
Everything was going according to plan, except that the goose had fallen in the deep end of the pond, of course. No problem, I had my chest waders, but as I got in the water I began to mire in the mud and knew I would never make it to the goose.
Plan B, I went to the truck and got some rope, tied a rock on one end and tried to throw the rope over the goose.
Finally I was forced to go drag a small boat to the pond, and wound up paddling with a dead tree branch, which is not very easy by the way. I did manage to get the bird, but I was as exhausted as if I had just packed a deer out of the woods.
Other duck hunters recommend a fishing rod with a Zara Spook or other big topwater plug with several hooks as a good waterfowl retriever for farmpond hunters.
If you are a duck hunter, I encourage you to give jump shooting a shot. It is barrels of fun, and you do not have to get up before the crack of dawn to do it. As a matter of fact you could sneak out to the pond and check for ducks between your morning and evening deer hunt.
So get a bird identification book and learn what a few ducks look like, pick up a duck stamp and some steel shot, and try your hand at bagging a duck or two with the bare-bones approach.
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