It is November and I am smack dab in the middle of the nation’s largest hunting show, The Whitetail Rut. When all the TV shows, webisodes, magazines, and social media are drilling you with pictures of heavy antlered bucks with their nose to the ground, why do I have a hard time pulling my mind out of the marsh? I know while the “orange army” is posted 20 feet up stuck to the side of a tree, a lot of quality marshes are filling up with feathered friends from the north. Competition is less intense, ice isn’t as much of an obstacle, and fresh birds could pile in at any moment. So, let’s dive into some important tips about finding quality waterfowl hunting.
Tip #1: Location is key to finding quality hunting property
How do you go about locating quality waterfowl properties? Although waterfowl numbers are generally healthy, waterfowl hunting grounds are not as wide spread as the properties that will hold deer. As the old real estate saying goes, location, location, location! The migration routes, carrying ducks, geese, and other birds like Sandhill Cranes from their summer ranges as far north as the Arctic to the wintering grounds in warmer climates, are broken down into four main flyways: Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic. These ancient routes concentrate the millions of migrating species into areas sometime as narrow as just a few miles. As you can expect, if you are not in the path of one of these flyways, you will often be disappointed after your trips to the blind. A quick Google search will reveal migration routes for entire continents and for your specific state. In Missouri, we are lucky enough to experience birds traveling along both the central and Mississippi flyways as well as going between the two. The Mississippi River funnels birds along the east edge of the state and the Missouri River bring everything from cranes, snow geese, and millions of ducks and geese from the plains across the middle of the state.
Once you have the general travel routes these birds will be traveling, the next step is naturally to find water. Waterfowl will roost at night in the safety of open water and marshes then head to the agricultural fields to feed in the morning. This is when I pull up my electronic maps like MapRight to help find those major and minor waterways. Turn on the water feature and topographical functions to easily find where those waterways converge and meander in flat areas. If you see a lot of topo lines stacked close together, you know that the water in this areas is going to be moving fairly fast draining from the hillsides. But if you find areas with wide spacing of the topo lines, that means this land is very flat and there is a good chance that water will create marshes. Another sign of potential wetlands is winding blue lines depicting meandering rivers and creeks. A straight creek is either quickly moving or channelized with minimal options for wetlands to develop. Convoluted waterways mean flat land and a good chance to find hidden ducks holes. When these winding creeks bend so far to cut off part of the river, they create oxbows, which are great places to find birds.
Tip #2: Find a property with basic needs like food and shelter
Once you have a few good areas located, the fun starts by looking at the other needs besides water that waterfowl (and all game animals) need: cover and food. Go back to your maps to look for crop fields adjacent or in close proximity to the potential waterfowl roosting spots. These birds will leave the safety of the marsh to gorge on corn and beans. Easy access to agricultural fields will make any potential wetland more valuable to birds and help hold them longer throughout the season. The same fields will also provide a drier field hunting opportunity. Besides food, ducks and geese can be pretty vulnerable to predators like coyotes, raccoons, hawks, and eagles as well as the cold weather patterns of the fall and winter seasons. A farm pond in the middle of cleanly harvested farm won’t be as attractive as a brushy marsh or flooded timber. The vegetation around these amazing wetland ecosystems hide birds from prey, insulate from cold winds, and also provide food in the way of seeds and aquatic invertebrates.
Tip #3: If you build it, they (the waterfowl) will come
By now, you should have a good idea of what areas are going to have a high potential for holding birds during the fall. Now the question is, how do you hunt it? Not all properties are created equal in their hunt-ability. Without getting too deep in the weeds with hunting techniques, an ideal property will have access to all areas of the property and lend itself well to hunting at different times of day and with different wind directions.
What if you are in the perfect location, but a wetland area doesn’t exist? The old saying, ‘if you build it, they will come’ may hold true in this situation. If you have done your homework and are in the right spot, you can build a wetland with a series of levees and water controls structures that will become a waterfowl hotspot over time. Add in strategically placed pit blinds and you can have a truly top-notch set up.
This approach is pretty expensive, but can be very rewarding. What if you lease the ground you hunt and can’t manipulate the landscape however you want? Joe Harris of Blind Spot Outdoors offers some advice. “For concealment, pit blinds are the ultimate hide. But, as you hunt, you will figure out that just moving 10-75 yards can change everything,” he said.
Portable blinds come in many forms. Layout blinds are not much more than body shaped tents that you lay out on the ground and blend in with vegetation. There are also blinds built on skids or floats that can provide flexible concealment and still maintain some of the comfort of pit blind. Blind Spot Outdoors builds a great blind that can be easily be maneuvered within a property or transported to other properties and set in place. You can even add heaters and cooking stations. They also work great in areas that offer little natural cover like lakes and reservoirs. According to Joe, the key with portable blind placement is eliminating the black lines, which are not natural. Also, use shadows to your advantage.
An important tip for Joe about hunting a property is when living and hunting in Missouri, you have to remember these ducks have been shot at for two months before for we get to them. Don’t pressure the birds too much. Hunt your new property on a strict schedule of days/times and utilize systems of refuges that allow birds to feel safe and not move out of your area.
As Facebook is flooded with photos of big bucks, I want to leave you with on last tip. Those same marshes that are home to swarms of ducks and loads of geese are also excellent deer properties. The thick, nasty brush of some of these places provide wonderful bedding and isolated dry spots. So, maybe tote a rife out to your blind along with your shotgun for those multi-species opportunities.
Reach out to an expert hunting land real estate agent at United Country Real Estate if you are thinking about locating your own personal waterfowl spot or just want to chat more about duck and goose hunting. Find an agent near you at www.UnitedCountry.com or www.RealtreeUC.com.
About the author:
Derek Foland is a real estate agent and land specialist for United Country | Heritage Brokers and Auctioneers based in Kansas City, Mo. He is an avid hunter and grew up deer and waterfowl hunting in his native state of Nebraska. He said he has had an appreciation for wildlife and their ecosystems since he was a child. Learn more about Derek at the Heritage Brokers and Auctioneers team at www.BuyHeritage.com.