Fog Messes with the Senses of Waterfowl — and Lets You Cash In
If you could design your perfect hunting day, what would it be? Most waterfowl hunters would want overcast skies and a stiff north wind to get birds moving. Add in some cool temperatures and maybe an impending storm, and marshes should be buzzing with activity.
I love those elements, too. However, I'd add one more thing to the mix: fog.
Fog — at least a good all-encompassing blanket of fog — isn't too common where I live, but if the forecast calls for it, you can bet I'll be hunting in it.
Some of my most memorable hunts have occurred when visibility was cut to nil. Although waterfowl are famous for making their long-distance biannual migrations, often flying hundreds of miles at night, fog throws them a curve. It really messes with their senses and makes them reluctant to take wing.
When thick fog envelops the ground, ducks and geese usually stay grounded until it lifts, if they can help it. If they take flight, they usually fly low, and savvy hunters can take advantage of their altered flight path.
In my opinion, calling is more effective during foggy days than at any other time. These birds, which are ordinarily such strong, confident fliers, desperately cling to anything that seems familiar when one of their strongest senses is compromised. Let out a few notes on your call when you hear foggy-weather fowl and they will suck right to you. I've called birds to close range without any decoys in the fog.
During foggy conditions, play to a bird's senses. Go heavy on the calling. Foggy days will make even marginal callers feel like pros as ducks and geese come readily to calls, honing in on something that sounds familiar. Use long-range hail calls to get their attention, and keep calling to give the birds an idea where to land as they come into range. Foggy days are one of the few times where you can't over-call.
Motion decoys also come into play when visibility is poor. Again, birds are off their game and are straining to see anything familiar. Use motion to grab their attention when they can't see well. Foggy days mean still days, so static decoys are practically useless. When it's really foggy, birds can be in range before they even see your lifeless decoys. However, motion decoys have better attracting power. Heck, even just ripples on the water will help attract birds. Spinning-wing decoys, swimming decoys and jerk cords will be helpful in the fog.
Another advantage of hunting in the fog is concealment. Although hunters should never get sloppy when hiding their blinds or boats, you can get away with a poor camouflage job or a little movement in the blind on a foggy morning.
You'll find that birds work especially well in the fog, and your shots will be close. In thick fog, you might not even see birds until they're in range, and they often present easy, slow-moving targets as they try to figure out the source of the calls they hear and make a quick decision how and where to land when suddenly appearing out of the misty shroud around them.
Despite these good reasons to be afield during low-visibility conditions, foggy fowling carries some drawbacks. For one thing, fog can work against hunters, not just their quarry. If you can't see a skyline when birds materialize out of thick air, it's easy to misjudge their distance and speed. I have blown some ridiculously easy shots at birds in the fog because I couldn't get a handle on their distance or how much to lead them. One hunt on Lake Superior comes to mind.
A friend and I were layout-hunting on the big lake one foggy morning. Almost all the birds we shoot there are divers, partially because that's mostly what we see, but also because puddlers tend to be more wary than divers. Geese have never succumbed to our layout boat. They're just too smart.
On that morning, I was anchored in the tender boat several hundred yards from shore when I heard geese honking in the distance. It was very foggy, so I started calling to let them know where I was. They turned on a dime and whirled in my direction. My calling brought them right in … to a boat with no cover on it and no camo paint job. The birds were in range before I could make them out. At 35 yards, it should have been easy. But when I shouldered the gun, the lack of a background confused me, and I had no idea how far to lead the birds. Sadly, they escaped without a ruffled feather. There's no quick fix to learn to shoot in the fog. Just expect that shots might be more difficult when you can't see a horizon.
Safety is also a big consideration when hunting in fog. First, it's important to take shots that are well above the water. Frankly, you just can't tell when another hunter might be paddling into your spread or if you might have inadvertently set up close to a shoreline house.
It's not difficult to get turned around in the fog. More than once, I've gotten terribly lost on lakes I could navigate easily even in the dark as long as I could see the moon, stars or a shoreline. But take those familiar objects away and I've been known to go in circles. Sometimes, a GPS in my boat saved me. The map on my smartphone has also gotten me out of some confusing situations. If you get turned around, remember, odds are the phone in your pocket can get you out of a jam.
Navigating in the fog isn't just difficult. It can be treacherous. Even a powerful spotlight can be thwarted by billions of droplets in the heavy air. Having an old trackline on your onboard GPS helps, but it's not always feasible if you're hunting from a boat that doesn't have GPS or if you're hunting a new area. Go slowly, and be careful. Sometimes, your best bet is to just wait until it lifts.
Hunting in the fog carries hazards and new challenges, and you should always keep safety in mind. If you're presented with a shot where you really aren't sure what's behind your target, the safest thing to do is pass. However, when the vision of ducks and geese is impaired, it can lead to some great hunting opportunities. Rely on your calls and motion decoys, and get ready for some in-your-face shooting.