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Deep Freeze Duck Hunting
DuckBuckGoose - PHJ ProStaff - Cincinnati, OH
I love January duck hunting. In my part of the world (Southern Ohio), it offers the best shooting of the year, and is typically when we start to see “the big push” of migratory birds. Its also when we have the best chance to hunt a variety of waterfowl species that we may not see during the fall and early winter. Along with the hot shooting action, January also brings with it the coldest weather of the season, challenging us to change our tactics if we want to be successful.
For example, this past week my area had several days in a row of single digit temperatures, which froze the local farm ponds and most of the protected bays in the local “big water” lakes. Only the middle of some of the largest lakes remained unfrozen, and those would freeze over soon as well. For a single dimensional waterfowler that only hunts big water shore blinds or flooded timber, this extended cold weather and ice can be bad news, and may even signal the end of their season. But for me, when the wind chill dips below zero the action is just heating up!
Case in point…last Saturday my Dad and I visited one of our favorite cold weather “hot spots”. It’s a 2-mile stretch of a large creek that we float in a specially outfitted canoe. (Before I go on, I need to mention that we’ve created a special outrigger for our canoe for extra stability and safety— which is very important when the temperature gets this cold).
This particular stretch of creek is near two large inland lakes, and is a productive spot every year in January for a few simple reasons:
In Ohio, you can hunt rivers and streams without landowner permission, as long as you don’t anchor or tie yourself to the bottom or shore in any fashion, or set out decoys that are anchored to the bottom. The water is public…the land is private. Also, you have to launch your boat or canoe where you do have permission, or on public land.
So, Dad and I put-in our canoe at a public park, just upstream from our cold weather hot spot, and then simply float the creek very, very slowly — using a small electric trolling motor to keep our rig on course. This is a different type of hunting than we are used to, because it relies less on calling and decoying. But, it is also offers a completely different experience, and one that we look forward to each year.
Using the canoe, we can often sneak close to birds loafing in the water, and sometimes even get close enough to jump them off the water and get a shot. But the real fun begins when small flocks start buzzing up and down the river like fighter jets flying in formation. In shore blind and timber hunting, it’s not often that you’ll see a squadron of birds heading straight for you at full speed, with no intention of slowing down. But when hunting the stream it is a common occurrence which offers some fun but challenging shooting.
If we had landowner permission, and wanted to tie up to shore and set decoys, that would work well here too, as long as we could find a spot where floating sheets of ice wouldn’t carry our decoys away. From my experience, ducks find certain stretches of the stream that they like to loaf in, probably for a variety of reasons. Once we jump ducks off these gathering spots in the canoe, we’ll often see them return to the same location within 20 minutes — especially when other open water is scarce. If you find one of these stretches on a stream and have permission to hunt the land, you’ve likely found a great spot to set out a few decoys and hunt from the shore.
Over the years my Dad and I have taken a variety of beautiful, full-plumage waterfowl in our cold weather hotspot. If you’re finding yourself in a late season deep-freeze and your normal hunting spots are iced over, get out there and scout. The birds may be a little harder to find, but when you find them the hunting action can really heat up.
Happy hunting, and please share your own late-season hunting tips, tactics and stories in the comments section.
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