decoy

Kodiak’s waterfowl season can seem pretty anemic if opening day is your only frame of reference.

There aren’t many birds and it’s often confounded by bluebird weather. There are also lots of hopeful hunters confusing the issue.

If you’ve already cleaned and stowed your gear after a disappointing hunt, you’ve acted way too soon.

Kodiak’s real season doesn’t get started until mid-November or even later. Depending on the weather patterns, lots more birds descend on the road system beginning in November, even as most hunters content themselves with televised sports.

The birds are newcomers to the road system and most haven’t experienced hunting pressure. If you can be in the right place at the right time, great hunting awaits.

Kodiak’s best duck hunting is dependent on the weather, and especially freeze-up in other places. As living conditions for the ducks deteriorate in outlying areas, they move to the waters scattered around the Kodiak road system.

We tend to think of migrations of birds from up north, but I’m convinced a population of non-migratory birds shifts around the island as the weather changes from one place to another.

Big storms to the north of us certainly push migratory birds ahead of them, but long after the northern waterfowl grounds are frozen solid we continue to see new arrivals with each storm.

Of course, if the northern grounds are slow to freeze in a warm winter, that can delay the arrival of large flocks until late in the season. But even with a late freeze-up we still see smaller groups of birds pushed onto the road system by localized storms.

Certainly keep an eye on weather patterns to the north of us in anticipation of the passage of larger flocks headed south. But also watch for local weather that shifts resident birds around the island.

My favorite time to be out on the water with a shotgun in my hand is in the final few hours before a storm really hits.

Almost like a baseball runner stealing a base, the birds come sliding out of the sky in the last moments before the really rotten weather descends. Being newcomers to the road system, they’re looking for any shelter they can find without the experience of prior hunting pressure. 

Calm water in the lee of cover is certainly a draw, but if the calm spots already have “ducks” on them, the new arrivals literally fall from the sky to join your decoys.

I have two very different sets of decoys for hunting the Kodiak road system.

For bluebird weather with hardly a breath of air, I prefer very lightweight decoys without keels. The slightest breeze or current causes them to move convincingly.

But set out those light keel-less wonders on a windy day, and they’re worse than worthless. They flop around so much they actually spook approaching birds.

For heavy weather I like heavy decoys with substantial keels and heavy anchors. They move gracefully and not too fast, while they also resist heavy bobbing and tipping in chop or strong gusts.

The old wooden decoys were tops under tough conditions, but they’re both too heavy and too expensive to consider using.

Instead, I buy the heaviest decoys I can find, then add weight to the keels as necessary to make them more stable.

When decoys start topping a couple of pounds each, I’m certainly not going to carry many on my back, and I don’t have a duck boat to transport them.

The contradiction is that results are usually best on open water with larger spreads of decoys. The ducks just seem to expect bigger flocks on open water and respond accordingly.

My solution is twofold.

I concentrate on small pockets of water adjacent to the open water favored by nervous newcomers. But I also get really sneaky in augmenting the smaller spread of heavy decoys.

I’m especially fond of “field” decoys, the lightweight versions designed for use on dry ground. They’re not subject to the wind, because they’re on stakes driven into the ground. And since they’re not in the water, their light weight is no liability.

I can carry half a dozen heavy “floaters” along with a dozen or more field decoys and dramatically increase the size of my spread.

The ducks also seem especially gullible to decoys standing out of the water.

Think about it a moment.

When you spot a flock of really relaxed ducks, many of them are actually out of the water, whether roosting, feeding or lazing. And the more relaxed the birds, the more of them that are out of the water.

To help emphasize that point, more of the ducks I harvest land with a thud on dry ground rather than splash into the water.

Hunting around open water presents special challenges on Kodiak. There simply isn’t much cover.

If you build an upright blind the birds flare badly, so the trick is to be within shooting range while not changing the terrain with a visible blind.

I certainly take advantage of the slightest bit of cover available, but for the most part I do my hiding by lying flat on the ground.

The birds don’t see any place likely to hide a hunter, so they’re much less suspicious of decoys.

I carry pieces of mesh camo or tarps to cover myself while lying down, then pull strands of grass, leaves or seaweed, or even small pieces of driftwood onto the cover to help break up its outline. The tarps and mesh fit nicely in a decoy bag, and by carrying several in different patterns it’s easy to match what’s around you.

A critical addition to my gear is a thin waterproof sleeping pad, the kind preferred by backpackers. With that under you, it’s possible to lay still for hours in comfort.

Of course midseason duck hunting isn’t all about lazing around and watching decoys.

The same storms that bring in the birds also push birds inland in search of sheltered waters.

Jump shooting can be outstanding starting about now. Even so, I’m a little slow to do much of it. Many bears are still out an active, working those same inland waters in search of last salmon meals before they den up for the winter.

I certainly have a few spots I like to jump shoot even now, but always with extra bear precautions. I’ll jump shoot more actively in November if we have snow, but more typically I save it until around Christmas when the odds of bear encounters are reduced.

If you love duck hunting and don’t mind a gale here and there on your hunts, November can be the start of the best duck hunting on Kodiak.

But you have to remain flexible and respond to the conditions as they change and the birds shift locations.

It pays to be intimately familiar with the birds’ recent activities and with the terrain, however. The more accurately you can predict their activities, the better you’ll find the hunting.

Best of all is to be on the water day after day, noting the changes as they occur. That’s not possible with a regular job, but there are always weekends and holidays.

It’s certainly a good idea to start reserving a few days for hunting over the Thanksgiving holidays when the duck hunting gets really good.

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