Consider This Checklist Before Hitting the Road
Every hunter's heart holds some wanderlust, and waterfowlers are no different. In fact, we seem to love setting off for far-flung destinations and exotic locales.
But our schemes must delve deeper than just identifying a spot, dreaming up a great hunt and filling the gas tank. Address these considerations before taking your act on the road.
The Internet has made it easy to identify great waterfowling spots, such as the Arkansas timber, Texas coast or prairie pothole region. However, those areas don't hold ducks and geese all the time. In fact, many of them only get good during specific times of the season or during certain conditions.
Identify the best times to hunt various spots. Fellow waterfowlers on social media can offer help, but some folks don't like loose talk — especially when it involves their honey hole. Instead, it's probably better to contact state or area waterfowl biologists to get a general idea of when bird numbers peak and wane. Ideally, find a local hunter or landowner contact who doesn't mind sharing. His insights can tell you when to travel or stay home.
Again, you can learn much about general land and water access via the Internet. If you hope to hunt private ground — think Nebraska fields or Dakota potholes — the picture gets murkier.
As with timing, this is where a local contact or experienced traveler can help. He can probably reveal spots where shaking hands with a farmer might put you on the X. And he can certainly share spots where it doesn't pay to ask or where guides control the landscape. If nothing else, try to gain a general picture about land accessibility before you start knocking on doors.
If you've read about an area on a website or social media, you can bet several thousand of your closest buddies have, too. Well-known spots attract hunters. Popular areas with lots of public ground or relatively easy access attract loads of hunters. And pressure hinders hunting success, whether you're in Canada's wheat country or a Louisiana bayou.
Again, seek advice from biologists, locals or folks who's traveled to a prospective area, and ask about the pressure there. Further, ask about the timing of that pressure, as it might not be as daunting early or late in the season. Soon, a clear picture of areas and times to avoid will emerge.
Gear and Logistics
I'll never forget hauling my heavy skiff to South Dakota and lugging it unnecessarily for hundreds of yards across the prairie. Don't be me. Find out the best ways to hunt specific areas, including what you'll need for decoys, blinds, watercraft, dog accessories and other gear. There's no sense hauling a dog stand to pothole country when your pooch can sit beside you on shore or atop a handy muskrat hut. Likewise, you don't want to show up for a Lake Erie layout hunt with a 14-foot aluminum boat and two-dozen decoys.
Just as important, identify a home base that will serve as your camp, and make sure it can accommodate your needs. Boats require lots of parking area, for example. And if you plan to hunt for several days and need to eat lots of ducks to stay legal, you'll require adequate kitchen facilities. Envision how you'll hunt and live on the road, and choose your campsite accordingly.
Sometimes, experienced itinerant waterfowlers or savvy locals can reveal gear or hunting considerations you've glossed over. It never hurts to pick their brains and ask lots of questions about their road routines. Bringing too much stuff can make you laugh and vow to leave those items at home next year. Traveling without an unforeseen necessity can ruin a trip.