This time of year, avid duck hunters long for cold weather and are itching to be outdoors pointing their guns to the sky. Duck season begins after Thanksgiving and comes to an end in late January. This Duck Hunting 101 guideline is for those of you who may be interested in taking a shot this season, or maybe your honey loves to hunt, and you want to be a little in the know about the sport.
Make sure you have the proper training and gear for your dog’s safety. You’ll need a dog blind, food and water, leash, E-Collar, first aid kit, bowl, vest, whistle and travel kennel. You want to watch the wind speed and waves for lake hunting to prevent drowning and overworking your dog. Your dog can get hypothermia when hunting your dog in cold water. If your dog starts to slow down and get sluggish, a tip to keep them warm is to take them back to the truck and turn the heater on for a while.
In Tennessee, the birds primarily work water such as flooded river bottoms, flooded cornfields, sloughs and flooded timber. The further west you go in Tennessee, the better the hunting gets because of the Mississippi Flyway. The location doesn’t change much during the season, but spots can freeze or run out of food, impacting the number of ducks that the site holds. Most duck hunting in Tennessee is public land, and the TWRA is changing the drawing process and changing blinds from annual blinds to a tier system.
Timing & Weather
The time of day depends on the weather and moon phase. On new moon mornings, time is perfect. Depending on the area, Mallards may not fly until 9 am-Noon. When the water in the fields is frozen, ducks typically do not fly until the warmest part of the day or a couple of days later when the water thaws out. The best time to hunt is when the water thaws after being frozen solid for a few days due to the ducks not having access to food during this time. On rainy days and full moons, afternoons can be perfect.
Additionally, the cold and wind are your best friend. Keep an eye on the weather north of you, and pay attention to the migration maps to see what’s pushing down your way. Some ducks migrate based on the time of year, not weather. We call these calendar ducks.
In addition to the State’s hunting license, you must have a federal waterfowl stamp. In Tennessee, you can purchase your stamp online at: gooutdoorstennessee.com or at the Post Office.
There are stringent rules regarding the type of ducks and volume for each to harvest legally. The daily bag limit of ducks is six birds/day, including no more than four mallards (no more than two of which may be a hen), three wood ducks, two canvasbacks, two redheads, two black ducks, one pintail and one mottled duck. In addition, there are particular limits for scaup in different areas and times, so check the TWRA website.
Duck Blinds, Decoys & Calls
Duck blinds, calls and decoys are always crucial unless you’re in an exceptional spot. These spots are scarce, so duck blinds are essential to keep hidden. As for decoys, you can use smaller spreads later in the year because ducks start to pair up because they tend to avoid big groups. You want enough to bring attention, but you can always overdo it. Your goal is to create a realistic-looking “hole” or area for ducks to land inside your decoy spread. Motion decoys, such as a “jerk string” (in the water), are great for days with no wind. Spinning wing decoys are just hit or miss especially late season. They tend to spook birds more than help later on in the season. The duck call acts as the finisher, but everything else has to be in place. If you have birds working but won’t finish, it’s time to change your strategy.