Rusty Creasey takes a low-impact approach to keep ducks at his club and ensure good hunting all season
Giving ducks a place to avoid pressure is the No. 1 way to create sustainable hunting. Photo by Realtree
You don’t have to spend too many days in the marsh or timber to know that ducks don’t react well to hunting pressure. It simply makes hunting tougher.
Still, duck hunters want to be afield as much as possible. And if they consistently hunt a relatively small property — say a lease, club, or even permission ground — they run the risk of turning that potential hotspot into an empty gar hole. It’s one of waterfowling’s biggest catch-22s — how to maximize time on the water while managing pressure to ensure quality hunting.
Rusty Creasey knows all about that. As the manager of the famed Coca-Cola Woods duck club near McCrory, Arkansas, he guides scores of duck hunters every year. And although the club features outstanding habitat, it’s only 640 acres, so Creasey must take a careful approach to keep ducks and hunters happy throughout the season.
“Managing pressure is extremely important, especially with the popularity of waterfowling seemingly increasing every year,” he said. “And there are a few ways you can do it.”
LET THEM REST
Giving ducks a place to rest is probably the No. 1 step to keeping them relatively un-pressured. If possible, set aside a portion of the property where ducks can feed and loaf without being hunted or otherwise disturbed.
“With farmers needing to make extra money on the side and the popularity of hunting, there just aren’t as many spots for a duck to rest nowadays,” Creasey said. “A duck doesn’t have many places where he’s not going to get his butt shot off. If you have a place where a duck can go rest and not get shot at and pressured, it’s not only valuable to us as waterfowlers, but also to the duck population.”
And that’s especially critical during dry years, when ducks have fewer places to congregate. Anyone who spends money to pump water into a property will likely hunt it, thereby increasing pressure on birds.
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Creasey said how you approach a hunting area is also critical. As with bowhunting, having a great setup spot means little if you bump your target animal while accessing or leaving the area.
“Ideally, you need a route in and a route out that doesn’t disturb or bother the ducks,” he said. “If you have a rest area or a spot the ducks use, you need to find a way to get around that without bumping those ducks.”
A subtle approach also works better. “Ducks don’t like loud noises and bright lights,” Creasey said. “If you can use the smallest light possible and go in in the dark, that’s another good way to not bother the ducks.”
HUNT THE EDDGES
Obviously, hunting areas where ducks want to congregate is a good way to blow them out of the area. Creasey avoids large concentrations of birds and tries to hunt the edges around them, lessening the impact on the majority of ducks in the area.
“If you have a concentration of ducks on, say, the eastern side of your property and you have an east wind, you can hunt on the western side of those ducks,” he said. “In order for more ducks to go to the live ducks, they have to circle downwind, which will put them over you. It’s a way to hunt them without getting in the middle of them. And it also blows the noise of your shots away from the live birds, which puts less pressure on the ducks that are there.”
LET THEM SIT
This step might seem counterintuitive to many duck hunters, as the first half-hour of the morning often provides the best action. However, Creasey avoids shooting into big flocks early in the morning, preferring to let them land and then drift into the timber. Afterwards, hunters can begin picking off birds from smaller groups.
“Early in the morning when the ducks are first coming to your spot, especially in the timber, any duck you let sit down, most of the time he’ll be there all day relaxing in the woods,” he said. “If you can let the bulk of your ducks sit down, especially in the timber, and not shoot into that big concentration of ducks when they’re in the air, they’ll come back the next day.”
LIGHTER IS BETTER
Creasey said using a smaller-gauge shotgun can also alleviate pressure on ducks. Muzzle blasts from sub-gauge guns create less noise, spooking fewer birds.
“If you can shoot a 20 instead of a 12, or even a 28, which is the rage nowadays, the noise those smaller gauges create versus a big 12-gauge is minimal,” he said. “I definitely think it doesn’t disturb those ducks from as far away.”