Tag Archives: waterfowl hunting

Big Time Teal Hunters

Green winged teal flock

Teal committed and coming into the decoy spread.

In your lifetime you may never meet a hunter who declares they are a big time teal hunter. Think about it, a big time teal hunter sounds a lot like like a big time bluegill fisherman. Or a devoted carp fly fisher. You meet goose hunters, deer hunters, elk hunters,grouse hunters, pheasant hunters, or the like. I  have yet to meet someone who introduces themselves as a big time teal hunter. Too bad, because teal are a blast and I love hunting them.

Teal are fast and teal are small. Teal are quick to dodge, twisting in the wind and slicing through the decoys like few ducks can. Look at their wings as they drop in from up high, tucked back like little fighter jets. As far as ducks go, teal are reportedly not one of the fastest species. I call B.S. on that statistic. Teal may not fly the fastest 40, but they are quick when it’s game time. Throw in a nice stiff breeze, say 20 mph, and the day quickly turns into the best wingshooting I know of. Divers like blue bills can rip the air like teal, but they don’t dodge like their puddler brethren.

Green winged teal flock

Teal dropping in and gaining speed for a closer look at the decoys.

It’s so satisfying to flash your barrel through a bird and connect when they make their initial supersonic pass through the dekes. It takes a good shot from a hunter to drop one.  Get on him, swing through and slap that trigger and slap it again if you have to and hopefully he goes down! And when you miss you usually laugh and say, “How did he…?! I guess I was behind him.” You know you’re missing as you’re pulling the trigger but you can’t help it.

Green winged teal flock

Teal leaving the spread, minus one.

Picking a bird, or as we say “target acquisition”, out of a decoying flock is usually the problem with teal.Far out from the decoys they line up so nice and straight, but as they start to break down into the spread the chaos begins.They maneuver and drop as they dump speed from their wings, cutting up and rocking side to side. It’s like letting loose a giant covey of quail with a 50 mph head start over the decoys. Plus, the drake green-wings are not always an easy drake to pick out compared to other ducks. Fortunately, teal are accommodating and social, they LOVE to zip through and check out their impostor buddies.

Green winged teal flock

Late season teal zigging and zagging as they come in.

yellow lab with a duck

Sugar retrieving a drake GWT.

So I’ll just come on out and say it, I’m a big time teal hunter. I love ‘em. Just like I love fly fishing for carp in the summer. I’ll take these little guys any day of the week, especially when December and January come around.

duck hunters with ducks

Late season teal success, with a few slow ducks thrown in for good measure.

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:


I was sitting right here tomorrow morning!

snow goose spread

A small spring snow goose spread- this is only 500 decoys.

Swans in the snow goose decoys

The swans were out and about last weekend making their way north. Some of them decided to swing in for a close look, which is always awesome. 


Hunting with SoftShell Decoys: How to position the silhouette heads

Snow goose decoys

SoftShell snow goose decoys

Hunting with silhouette decoys is nothing new; I remember making silhouette decoys with my dad and brothers over 30 years ago. We used plywood for the bodies, painted them to resemble Canada geese, and anchored big wooden stakes to them with nuts and bolts. They were heavy and almost impossible to stick into frozen fields, but they must have looked realistic enough to the birds because we killed geese using them (though, admittedly not many!).

Silhouette decoy hunting strategies remain mostly the same today- mimic what you see the birds doing in the field and set the decoys at varying angles so geese can see them from every direction. While SoftShell Decoys are not silhouettes, they do feature an adjustable silhouette head on a Tyvek shell body. In light to moderate winds, up to 15 mph, you can vary the look and set up of your decoys by adjusting their heads in a few different positions. I like to set the heads up in four main positions. Imagine a compass if you will for these positions:

  •  Looking straight ahead, at 0 degrees
  • Looking right, at approximately 60-80 degrees
  • Looking straight back, at 180 degrees like a preener
  • Looking left, at approximately 280-300 degrees

By positioning the heads like this, I believe you make them as visible from all angles as possible for the geese. Not only do they always see some of the sentry heads- most importantly they don’t see all of the sentry’s all of the time. I’ve heard other hunters theorize that maybe this adds some element of movement as the birds circle the spread, because heads (or silhouette decoys) appear and disappear as they circle or come in from the sides. This sounds about right to me, and on calm to mid-wind days the birds certainly look at the spread more. It must appear to the geese that some of the sentry heads disappear as they circle, presumably to feed. A great feature of the SoftShell is that the entire decoy doesn’t disappear like conventional silhouettes, just the head as the birds circle- this is a great illusion! With these 4 head angles I feel like I’m covered and presenting a good illusion of head movement to the geese.

On windy days (winds above 15-20 mph) I feel the head positioning is much less important because the birds don’t circle the spread nearly as much. I’ve found the the birds are way less discerning of a decoy spread in heavier winds, they are looking to get down and start feeding.

There are some trade-offs with ultra-lightweight decoys that feature heads, and SoftShells are no exception. Once the winds start to blow above 20 mph, you are limited to the positions you can use with the heads because they catch so much wind. When this happens I tend to use only 3 positions with the heads.

  • Looking straight right, 90 degrees
  • Looking straight back 180 degrees
  • Looking straight left, 270  degrees

The decoys with heads positioned perpendicular to the wind hold their position better. I’ve found that positioning the heads to look straight ahead, at 0 degrees is possible, but they usually catch some wind and turn around. You can avoid this by not even putting them in this position when you know the wind is going to blow above 20 mph. .

All of these head positions allow you to maximize the effectiveness of your SoftShell Decoy spread, whether you are hunting ducks or geese. You can play with the different head angles to see what works best for you, but these ideas work well and are time tested.


Dogs are such great hunting partners. They all have their unique qualities just like we do, and our current hunting labrador  Sugar is no exception. She is 2 years old and has really started to figure this game out, despite my lack of training over the past year. She lines out on blind retrieves as well as any dog I’ve hunted with, sits quietly when we’re in the field, and has a good (and developing) nose.  On the flip side, she’s also learned I’m not paying close attention to her when I am taking photos and/or filming during hunts which means she has figured out when she can break on a retrieve- but we’re working on that!   These are just a few of my favorite photos from the past 2 years, with many more to come I’m sure.

Labrador puppy

Sugar at 8 weeks

Two labradors

Sugar with Wile E. Coyote


Sugar with Canada goose

Sugar loves geese!


Sugar at Farmington Bay

Sugar with a face full of mud on the GSL.

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.


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