Tag Archives: duck hunting

Sammy: 11 1/2 years old and still going strong

We left the young dogs at home the other day in favor of Sammy, Rob Spicer’s 11 year old lab. 11 years old and still going strong!

Sammy found and retrieved all of our birds at her own pace, which is just slightly slower than we move during these icy winter hunts. Pretty good for an 11 year old, or 77 in human years if you prefer.

The highlight of the afternoon was the drake canvasback she retrieved- she waited for the bird to come back to her after it dove under an ice shelf. The big drake came back out right at her feet and she bent over and picked it up, like it was no big deal. It made our day watching her work.

Black lab in coffin blind

Sammy waiting for some action.

Black lab with a pintail

Sammy brings in a pintail.


Sammy brings in another pintail.


Sammy retrieving a canvasback.

Ducks in the corn: A video of field hunting for mallards

This is a short video we put together after a few field hunts this fall. Talking to other hunters and outfitters this season confirms what the USFW Service reported this fall,  the duck and goose populations are up!


Interesting water fowling facts from 2011

Duck hunting

Waiting for the next flock to arrive.

Looking at the recently released waterfowl population statistics, paired with some of the harvest statistics from last year yields some interesting trends and figures. Here are a few of them that jumped out at me.

  • Arkansas in the #1 state for harvesting mallards, with a bag of 639,000 birds. Wow!
  • Rhode Island has the smallest waterfowl harvest in the nation at 2,100 birds with only 500 active hunters participating. I know a guide in Canada who’s clients shoot more waterfowl during the season than the entire state of Rhode Island.
  • California is the top state in the nation for harvesting Northern Pintails, with a bag of 201,000.
  • In my home state of Utah, there were 366 snow geese harvested in 2011. Really? It’s no wonder we travel out of the state to chase white geese.
  • The entire nation killed only 393,000 snows and blues for 2011. This number strikes me as being really low when you consider the record population of light geese we now have. They have earned their reputation as a wary and tough bird to hunt.
  • There were 2.2 million Canada geese harvested in 2011, almost 6 times as many compared to snow geese.
  • Out of a human population of more than 311 million in the United States, only 1.1 million of us hunt waterfowl. This can’t be a good sign for the future of waterfowl hunting.
  • And finally, Louisiana was the top state for harvesting coots, with hunters harvesting 207,000 birds during the 2011 season. I don’t know about you, but surely I read this as some sort of testament to their culinary skills!





USFW Service recommends liberal season and limits for 2012 waterfowl season

Flock of snow geese

A record number of snow geese are expected again this fall.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed their guidelines for the upcoming waterfowl season, and the proposal is promising for waterfowlers. The following is their press release:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced proposed hunting
season lengths and bag limits for the upcoming 2012-13 late waterfowl
seasons. The proposed federal frameworks include duck hunting season
lengths of 60 days in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, 74
days in the Central Flyway (with an additional 23 days in the High
Plains areas), and 107 days in the Pacific Flyway. The proposed
frameworks also include a full season on pintails with a two bird
daily bag limit nationwide, and a full season on canvasbacks with a
one bird daily bag limit nationwide. The proposed late season
waterfowl frameworks will appear in a mid-August edition of the
Federal Register for public comment.

States select their individual seasons from within the federal
frameworks that establish the earliest beginning and latest ending
dates and the maximum season length and bag limits. Flyway-specific
highlights of the proposed late-season frameworks are as follows:

Atlantic Flyway (Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine,
Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North
Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont,
Virginia, and West Virginia):
• Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days
between September 22, 2012, and January 27, 2013. The proposed daily
bag limit is 6 and may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 4
scoters, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 hooded mergansers, 4 scaup, 1
black duck, 2 pintails, 1 canvasback, 1 mottled duck, and 1 fulvous
whistling duck.
• Geese: For light geese, states will be able to select a 107-day
season between October 1, 2012, and March 10, 2013, with a daily bag
limit of 25 birds and no possession limit. Seasons for Canada geese
would vary in length among states and areas depending on the
populations of birds that occur in those areas. The daily bag limit
will be 5 birds in hunt zones established for resident populations of
Canada geese. In hunt zones established for migratory populations,
bag limits will be 5 or fewer and vary among states and areas. For
Atlantic brant, the season length may be 50 days with a daily bag
limit of 2.

Mississippi Flyway (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri,
Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin):
• Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days
between September 22, 2012, and January 27, 2013. The proposed daily
bag limit is 6 and may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 3
wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 2 redheads, 4 scaup, 2 pintails,
1 black duck, and 1 canvasback. The proposed daily bag limit of
mergansers is 5, only 2 of which may be hooded mergansers. In states
that include mergansers in the duck bag limit, the daily limit is the
same as the duck bag limit, only 2 which may be hooded mergansers.
• Geese: Generally, seasons for Canada goose would be held between
September 22, 2012, and January 31, 2013, and vary in length among
states and areas. States would be able to select seasons for light
geese not to exceed 107 days with 20 geese daily between September
22, 2012, and March 10, 2013; for white-fronted geese the proposed
season would not exceed 74 days with a 2-bird daily bag limit or 88
days with a 1-bird daily bag limit between September 22, 2012, and
February 17, 2013; and for brant it would not exceed 70 days with a
2-bird daily bag limit or 107 days with a 1 bird daily bag limit
between September 22, 2012, and January 31, 2012. There is no
possession limit for light geese.

Central Flyway (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South
Dakota, Texas, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and
• Ducks: Duck season frameworks are between September 22, 2012 and
January 27, 2013. The daily bag limit would be 6 ducks, with species
and sex restrictions as follows: 5 mallard, no more than 2 of which
may be females; 3 wood duck, 2 pintail, and 2 redhead, 1 mottled duck
and 1 canvasback. Mottled ducks may not be harvested during the first
5 days after the beginning of the regular season in Texas. The
possession limit would be 2 times the daily bag limit. In the High
Plains Mallard Management Unit (roughly west of the 100th Meridian),
a 97 day season is proposed, and the last 23 days can start no
earlier than December 8, 2012. A 74 day season is proposed for the
remainder of the Central Flyway.
• Geese: States may select seasons between September 22, 2012 and
February 17, 2013 for dark geese and between September 22, 2012, and
March 10, 2013, for light geese. East-tier states would be able to
select a 107 day season for Canada geese with a daily bag limit of 3.
For white-fronted geese, east-tier states would be able to select
either a 74 day season with a daily bag limit of 2 birds or an 88 day
season with a daily bag limit of 1 bird. In the West-tier, states may
select a 107 day dark goose season with a daily bag limit of 5 birds.
In the Western Goose zone of Texas, the state would be able to select
a 95 day season with a daily bag limit of 5 dark geese (including no
more than 1 white-fronted goose). For light geese, all states would
be able to select a 107-day season with a daily bag limit of 20 and
no possession limit.

Pacific Flyway (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah,
Washington, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and
• Ducks: States are allowed a 107-day general duck season between
September 22, 2012, and January 27, 2013. The proposed daily bag
limit is 7 ducks, including no more than 2 mallard hens, 2 redheads,
2 pintails and 1 canvasback.
• Geese: 107-day seasons are proposed for the Pacific Flyway between
September 29, 2012, and March 10, 2013. Proposed basic daily bag
limits are up to 10 light geese and 6 dark geese. There are many
exceptions to the basic bag limits and season structures for geese in
many states, so consult State regulations for specific details. In
California, Washington and Oregon, the dark goose limit does not
include brant. For brant, the proposed season lengths are 16 days in
Oregon and Washington and 30 days in California, with a 2-bird daily
limit. Washington and California are able to choose seasons in each
of the two zones described in state regulations.

The Service’s 2012 Waterfowl Population Status Report summarizes
information on the status of duck and goose populations and habitat
conditions during spring of 2012. In the traditional survey area,
which includes the north-central United States, south-central and
northern Canada and Alaska, the 2012 total duck population estimate
was 48.6 million birds, an increase of 7 percent over last year’s
estimate. Despite poorer habitat conditions compared to 2011,
population abundance estimates are good for this breeding season. The
total pond estimate for prairie Canada and the US combined was 5.5
million, which is down 32 percent from last year.

The annual survey results guide the Service’s waterfowl conservation
programs under authority of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Each
year the Service works in partnership with states from the four
flyways to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting
season lengths, dates, and bag limits. All of this information
represents the largest data set on any wildlife species group in the
world and helps provide hunting opportunities while ensuring the
long-term health of waterfowl populations.

The Status of Waterfowl report can be found at
http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/. To view a video of the Status of
Waterfowl video visit:

Feathered Friday: Green-winged teal

Looking at some pics from the 2012 waterfowl season and recalling how awesome the teal flights were. Flocks like the one  in the picture were common, which made for some great shooting late in the season.

flock of green winged teal


My labrador Sugar sure enjoyed it.

labrador retriever with duck

Bringing back the groceries- time for some curry duck!



Beginner wing shooting tips: Try to pick one bird out of the flock

Flock of green-winged teal

Green-winged teal coming into the decoys.

I spent a lot of time waterfowl hunting with new shooters this past season. As a result, I was reminded of how many different ways there are to miss a duck. One of the most common mistakes is to not pick out a single bird when a large flock comes to the decoys.

As a duck hunter, we’ve all done it at one time or another- the unavoidable “flock shot”. Surprisingly, it usually results in missing absolutely everything.  How is it possible to have so many birds packed into such a tight space and not hit one? I don’t know, but it happens more often than not. It’s just so tempting to shoot into the biggest part of the flock, but you need to try and avoid it.

Over the years I’ve learned to minimize this bad habit by doing a few things:

  1. Focus on the side of the flock you’re supposed to shoot at in relation to your partners, which helps to visually cut the flock in half. If I was sitting on the left side of the blind in this photo, I would look at the left side, or back half of this flock.
  2. Focus on finding a drake in that “zone”, which for me would be one of the back 3 birds in the picture.
  3. Zero in on that bird and forget about the rest of the flock, now drop him!

It looks easy when the picture is frozen, but it’s totally different when they’re rocketing into the decoys, shifting in the wind and constantly changing positions.

Not only will these simple tips help you to pick out a bird, they should also keep you and your partners from zeroing in on the same bird when a flock comes in.

Late season duck hunting tactics, a short video

This short video is from our late season duck hunts on the ice. These hunts were filmed over the last couple of weeks of our 2011-2012 waterfowl season. Thanks to Troy, Rob, Bryce, and Max, they are patient friends!

Late season duck hunting tactics: Go lightweight to get to the birds.

Farmington Baby duck hunt

Late season duck hunting

Late season duck hunting is officially under way here in Utah. Early December is when we usually see our first hard freeze of the year . All of the major marshes in the state are frozen to the point where they are impassable with a boat and many of the ducks and geese head either south or west for warmer temps. So is it time to give it up chasing ducks? Hardly! Now is the time to use different tactics and approaches for late season waterfowl. Food sources and open water become even more important than ever, but it”s also more difficult to get to the birds because of the ice. Setting yourself up to travel to the birds with lightweight decoys and gear is essential for success.

We are lucky enough to have a 100-day season to hunt waterfowl in Utah,which is great because we get to hunt in so many different weather conditions. The last 40 days of the season involve freezing and thawing periods, which present a ton of opportunities for us.  I enjoy this time period for many reasons. First, there is a lot less competition in the marsh from other duck hunters. I would guess that at least 95% of the duck hunters in the state have quit chasing ducks and geese by by the time the ice sets in. Second, even though duck numbers are down, the birds that remain are mature, colorfully plumed birds. Picking out your drakes during late season hunts is as easy. Greenheads and pintails glow this time of year! Third, it takes years of hunting and chasing these late season birds to really figure them out, it is physically demanding and hard hunting but it’s extremely rewarding. And finally, the best flight of the day usually occurs between noon and 5:00 PM, which is really hard to beat.

Late season sprig

The tactics we use are straight forward enough, which includes a lot of scouting, glassing for birds, and looking for the water that remains open in the area you are hunting. This sounds obvious, but it can come in the form of culverts, warm springs, melting mud edges, creeks, and rivers. We also focus on the areas birds are coming to feed in, not roosting water. You need to keep the birds in the area so don’t bust the roost!

Late season duck hunt, SoftShells in the shallows

As far as food sources, there are some key food types the birds feed on in the marshes, some of which may be new to you if you’ve  never hunted the state before. These include midge larvae, alkali bull rush seeds, salicornia plants (pickle weed), and the remaining pond algae.

The hunt we really take advantage of involves two food sources that come together for the birds when the sun starts to melt the ice at midday- midge larvae and alkali bullrush seeds.  The midges are bright red in color, and they become active when the sun warms the mud and melts the ice, and the ducks really take advantage of them. In addition to the midges, the melting ice makes it easier for the ducks to access and feed on the alkali bullrush seeds as the edges of small open water areas open up even more . We hunt these areas in coffins or with lay-out blinds in combination with our SoftShell Decoys:, the cover is typically very low and the water very shallow. Decoys on a stake work perfectly in this set up. Experience has shown 2 to 3 dozen decoys is enough, being on the “x” is the key. I’ve also stopped bringing spinning wing decoys on these hunts because they don’t seem to work as well in the late season- they’re not worth the weight to haul out with us. It’s not uncommon for us to walk over a mile to get to our hunting spot, which is why having lightweight gear is so important.

Max walks across the ice with Ruby and a pair of pintails.

So have you given up for the year? Too cold or too far to walk? For selfish reasons I hope so, but I think you miss out on some of the most rewarding hunts of the year.

Duck hunting the Bear

This post is a guest submission from my friend Brett Prettyman. Some of you may know Brett from his outdoor writing with the Salt Lake Tribune. We recently had the good fortune to hunt together again.Thanks for the post Brett! 

Sunrise over the Bear River Bird Refuge

As we climbed into the canoe at 6 a.m., I mentioned the last time I had been in one was on the Boundary Waters in Pete’s home state of Minnesota. I didn’t say it, but I quietly reflected on that trip and wondered how such an experience in a canoe could ever be topped. Little did I know it would be equaled in the next hour.

Pete talked about a previous trip on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and how fun it was to listen to his young niece constantly make sure her father and uncle knew were they were going without any light a week earlier. I thought the same thing, but this was not my first trip with Pete. I had learned to trust his outdoor skills long ago. We met more than 20 years ago in a college class at the University of Utah. He spent the next two summers teaching me how to fly fish on the Green River where he guided anglers. In more recent years he has been teaching me the joys of the marsh.

We dipped the paddles in a waking-up-kind of rhythm for a few minutes and, after one false partial turn, pointed the canoe in a southerly direction and started searching for a good spot to set the decoys. I thought my coffee-depraved mind was playing tricks on me, but I had to ask. “I swear the moon is getting brighter,” I said, noticing the cool morning air was making my breath visible. Pete turned his head to the less-than-quarter moon and said it was because it was catching more of the sun as dawn approached.  It was good thing he was doing the steering because I couldn’t take my eyes off the glowing slice of moon in the eastern sky.

After scoping out a couple of potential spots we settled for the tallest island of cover and started setting the decoys. I had only really ever watched Pete do it on our other trips. This time he suggested where I should throw them and how many in each spot. I headed off to do as I was told, but took a minute to watch as he grabbed his bag of SoftShell Decoys and headed to another spot. Pete had been sharing his idea of the SoftShell Decoys with me for a couple of years. He even borrowed my camera at one point to try and get some good photos during the production phase. As he pulled the lightweight decoys out and started to push them into the marsh I realized I was watching a man who had completed a vision.

SoftShell mallards in the shallows.

It was a moment I’ll never forget.  A good lesson in the power of making a dream become a reality. We wedged the canoe into the phragmites, called Sugar into the craft and settled in just in time for those magic moments when night relinquishes its hold and day creeps onto the scene. It really was a surreal moment. I felt like I was looking at one of those photos from space with that eerie glow of the sun separated by a thin moving line preparing to extinguish the stars.

I snapped a photo and had just put the iPhone away when the ducks started to fly. My shoulder hurt after the third shot and I didn’t drop a bird until a dozen or so shells flew out of the shotgun. Pete reached his limit quickly even after giving most of the best shots to me. I lamented on my poor shooting, but he reminded me it had been a while since I’d pulled the trigger.

Sugar looks over Pete's shoulder, waiting for the next flight.

The morning heated up, but the birds kept coming until the mosquitoes started to buzz. It was time to head home. The scenery had been stupendous, the shooting subpar (at least on my behalf) and the company stellar.

The decision was made when a pair of floating decoys had built up enough weeds and caught enough current to start to float away. I chased them down while Pete fetched up his decoys. I wondered if he would have made me carry the backpack full of heavy decoys while he carried his bag of 50 SoftShell Decoys that weighed lass than a quarter of the bag I had collected. I figured he would have, but only one way.

Daddy Daughter Day- It’s all about the outfit!

Emma and Max watching the sun come up, laughing all morning long as the ducks pour through the decoys.


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