Of the thousands of duck hunters who will spend four hours waiting for ducks on opening day only a portion will have good luck. Those who do well likely will have one thing in common: they scouted and pre-planned long before opening day.
Years ago when flocks of ducks darkened our marshes and lakes a hunter could mosey out on opening day and shoot a limit just about anywhere. That isn't the case anymore. Duck populations have plummeted to the point where only prime wetlands hold good numbers on opening day. Fair or marginal habitat will have few, if any, ducks. So the best way to ensure good hunting on opening day is to find a prime spot with plenty of ducks.
Like any other creature, ducks need three things to survive: food, comfort and protection. The habitat that combines these will attract the most birds. Rice beds in rivers and lakes, ponds with a combination of open water and emergent vegetation and new beaver ponds are good examples. Rice-filled lakes and rivers often attract the most ducks. Not only is there plenty of food, but the rice stalks also provide protection from ground and aerial predators. Marshes with cattails, reeds and other emergent vegetation attract ducks for the same reasons.
Areas where beaver dams have recently flooded nearby vegetation have the food and protected areas where ducks feel comfortable. Areas around old dams aren't nearly as good. At times I've seen thousands of ducks sitting on a new pond covering less than 10 acres. Solitude is an important factor. A backwoods beaver dam surrounded by acres of forest can seem as remote as the North Pole. Few people know where these dams are while the well-known marshes and rice beds might have dozens of hunters on the opener.
To find these good duck hunting areas spend a few evenings watching for flocks. Start near the major duck holding areas, like big rice marshes or wildlife management areas, and watch where the ducks come from. Ducks often spend the days sitting on different waters and then return to a large gathering site at dusk. Within a few evenings you should be able to track moving flocks to where they've spent the days.
Observing from roads usually reveals only so much, so be prepared to bust some brush to find the places where ducks sit during the day. A topographical map is a great help, even though new beaver dams won't be indicated. A very serious hunter I know hired a pilot with a small plane to scout likely spots. It cost a good chunk of change, but he always had the best hunting places.
I like to combine duck scouting with grouse hunts. Walking through the woods is fun, and a few bonus partridge make it even better.
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