For me, Kodiak’s “real” duck season starts in November.
Almost no one is in the field, so the birds can develop regular habits with comparatively little disruption, especially in the middle of the week.
Even better, the weather can be counted on to be rotten much of the time, which spells better hunting. If it continues to cool, lots of small inland waters will freeze over and the ducks will have fewer places to hide.
On top of all that, cold weather and ice far away bring additional birds to the road system.
More birds, less water and fewer people is my kind of math!
The key is familiarity with the terrain and habits of the birds.
You can only get that with time in the field. The more time you spend hunting, the better the hunting will be for you.
In my long years of duck hunting on Kodiak, I’ve developed a pattern of my own.
In the days and weeks of November and December leading up to the holiday season, I spend every possible moment looking for ducks.
If I don’t have time for hunting, even a short drive out the road can reveal important information for upcoming hunts.
Once the holidays roll around, I have a deal with my family. I’ll do anything and everything they want each afternoon in trade for daily morning hunts.
They get to sleep in and I get to enjoy better and better duck hunting as my knowledge of the birds improves with each passing day.
There are two keys to duck hunting success on Kodiak, and they’re readily apparent once the casual duck hunters find other things to do and stay away.
If you carefully study the birds’ relaxed movements in relation to the winds and tides, you’ll know where to find them from one day to the next.
In a nutshell, the ducks use the tide flats when the tides are low and the margins of the bays along with the rivers and open inland waters when the tide is high.
If the wind is blowing onshore, they tend to stay within reach on the tide flats and inland waters. If it’s blowing offshore, they tend to fly out into the sheltered bays and rest for much of the day.
Give me a strong onshore wind with lots of surf, and I can find good hunting.
But all is not lost if there’s an offshore wind. As a matter of fact, the road system lets you access two sides of the island. An onshore wind on one side is an offshore wind on the other.
It’s just a matter of driving to the shoreline where the wind is causing rough water and uncomfortable offshore conditions for the birds.
I’m still careful about bears, but those inland pockets of water are the key to much of my duck hunting success.
You might see lots of birds out on the open tide flats at low tide or on open water of the bays when the tide is high.
The problem is getting within range.
Large spreads of decoys certainly work at high tide if you can beat the movement of the tides and rivers. But those open tide flats at low tide generally allow the birds to see you from a long way off.
The situation changes dramatically once you move inland.
Even during a cold snap with lots of ice, you can still find open springs and open stretches of river. In fact, the colder and the more ice the better because birds moving inland are confined to more predictable locations.
Add in that strong offshore wind to keep the birds moving in the open areas and send them inland for shelter, and the hunting can be downright hot.
The point of frequent trips out the road system, whether actually hunting or simply sitting and watching with binoculars, is to learn the areas the birds are using as the wind, weather and tide change.
Simply watching the birds will point you toward the hidden pockets they favor. Once you have that general information, it’s to time to start walking and learn the terrain.
Pure jump shooting will work on these small waters, but I love to mix decoys into my days. That’s especially true with strong onshore winds.
Certainly jump shoot as you move about and explore for hidden birds.
But once you find where they are hiding and resting, break out the decoys.
I never carry more than six, and in fact most times I carry only three. That’s plenty on small waters.
The secret is to place them so they’re highly visible from as many directions as possible. If the ducks see your decoys where they expect to find company, they won’t hesitate for a moment to drop out of the sky to join the party.
I have to make several changes in my chokes and loads over the course of this kind of hunting day.
I screw in a tight choke and use great long-distance rounds for my jump shooting of course.
But once I settle down over decoys, the action is fast and close. I want an open choke and loads that open quickly for larger patterns.
A tight choke and long range load produces a pattern about a foot across at 20 yards where the decoy action occurs. I simply can’t shoot well enough for that to work for me.
The open choke and change in loads produces a pattern more like 20 to 25 inches at 20 yards, and I can score well with that.
At such close quarters, you also need to hide quickly and well.
There’s no time for building elaborate blinds. Worse yet, a sudden change in familiar terrain will cause the birds to flare away the moment they see it.
Instead ,I carry a square of camo netting and an old bed sheet.
Depending on the location and the background color, I lie down and cover myself to await arrival of the birds.
Don’t depend entirely on the sheet or camo tarp, however. By themselves they look pretty much like a sheet or tarp spread on the ground.
You need to break up their outline, even as they block you from sight.
I like to grab a few handfuls of grass and a branch or two and toss them on top of the tarp or sheet. It makes an amazing difference in their performance.
There’s one more important ingredient for such a strategy.
I also carry a backpacker’s insulated sleeping pad.
The ground gets cold in a hurry when you’re lying down, and that kind of discomfort can lead to impatience.
But with a pad under me, I can lie on the ground for a considerable period of time without discomfort.
Add in a thermos of your favorite hot drink and a good selection of snacks while you’re packing, too.
It takes time and patience to wait out birds coming to decoys. I manage that a lot better when I have plenty to eat and drink.
November duck hunting isn’t for everyone, and that’s a good thing.
Anyone who truly loves duck hunting will discover that the bad weather, extra birds and limited interference from other hunters add up to excellent hunting.