I have never been very good at duck shooting. I don’t like sitting in a maimai waiting, and I don’t like shooting with people who are useless and don’t have any field craft. I miss way too many ducks, mainly because I am not familiar with the shots ducks present.
Days where nothing comes into the decoys are frustrating, especially when I am missing the best time to shoot upland. And someone will criticise my dogs for not being steady, when I have trained them to break on the shot to retrieve upland game and I know their dogs are not that flash after pheasants and quail. Or ducks for that matter. So I have tended to avoid duck shooting, even when I have access to good ponds. Every time I am sitting in a maimai getting cold I am thinking about all the upland birds I could have been chasing, rather than how to improve my duck shooting. There was too much waiting and not enough field craft.
The 2018 season changed my perspective. I hunted a lot with Hunter Lowe, who is a committed, thoughtful and extremely successful duck hunter. He understands field craft, calls effectively and he is able to convert this into ducks being shot. Like me he is pretty sceptical about shooting with people without field craft. Unlike me he understands ducks and knows when to leave a pond to sit on a flight path in the middle of a field. Or which puddles will have puddle ducks.
Some of the lessons he has taught me have made me a far better duck hunter, and made me enjoy duck hunting far more than I thought was possible.
Hunter is constantly scouting, or getting me to scout. My best ever duck shoot was a mid season Saturday morning on public land. Hunter had spotted a raft of ducks the night before, and we set up the next morning. Right on shooting light the ducks came piling in, and Hunter would have limited in 20 minutes if he hadn’t been leaving a few for me.
New Zealand ducks tend to feed at night and loaf in the day. To shoot mornings you need to find a resting pond or stretch of river. To shoot in the evening you need to find a place where the ducks are coming in to feed.
Where are the Ducks Feeding?
When looking at puddles for an evening shoot during the day look for lots of duck feathers on the water. This suggests ducks will drop in in the evening.
Ducks Land into the Wind
Shooting with Hunter means setting up on paddocks, rivers and puddles where there is no permanent structure. Keeping a low profile is important, but equally important is setting up to shoot where the ducks will come in. They like to land into the wind, a point that was driven home by a shoot that started out really good and the wind changed so the ducks were trying to drop into our laydown blinds from behind us. We needed to move the blinds.
I am tone deaf and a terrible caller. A lot of this was confidence, and Hunter shooting a duck with a mouth call when we were pheasant shooting in upland orange helped my confidence immeasurably.
I subsequently went to shoot some flooded margins where I knew ducks would be and forgot my calls. I was incredibly annoyed so when the ducks flushed I mouth called them, and got them to come back. Three separate times I mouth called ducks and they were the most satisfying ducks I have ever shot. Mouth calling basically means saying “Quack, Quack Quack” to hail the ducks and trying to make a feeding chuckle when they are close. I didn’t do a great job of the mouth calling but I still got the ducks.
Duck shooting is so much more than sitting in a cold maimai with people who are dodging their wives. Understanding the field craft for hunting ducks makes duck hunting way more interesting and way more satisfying.