Duck shooting is an exciting experience, full of wonder and unpredictability. Just imagine that a duck could have travelled several hundred kilometres, flown over hundreds of waterholes, to come and land here, in front of you. Hunting this elegant, clever and ever-watchful creature is demanding, but worthwhile. Let’s take a look at the basics of a successful hunt, so you can bring this incredible waterfowl back home with you.
1. Seasons and timings
Mallard ducks, which are mostly sedentary, begin to repopulate our lakes and other wetlands towards the end of the summer. The highest numbers are generally observed in the middle of autumn, between October and November, across most of France.
The hunting season runs from the end of August to the end of January. There are no less than ten regional hunting methods for this emblematic bird, and some hunters develop a real passion and devote long nights — or even their whole life — to it.
When to start
Daily movement behaviour takes place before daybreak and after sunset. I make a very early start if I am intending to hunt, aiming to arrive at the blind location before the first light of day. Many people recommend being in position an hour and a half before sunrise to maximise your chances of success.
Their movements are relatively simple to understand. Ducks fly out at the end of the day to feed at wetlands and other secondary night feeding grounds, and return in the early morning to larger bodies of water for more “security” during the day. You can shoot ducks at the daytime resting place, but care should be taken not to exert too much hunting pressure at these times, so as not to frighten away the ducks that have taken up residence in your area.
2. Observe the area, understand their behaviour
Hunting waterfowl generally requires a lot of observation and some knowledge.
Observation is crucial for understanding where in the wetlands ducks will naturally tend to congregate. Very often they depend on prevailing winds, provide shelter, and have favourable landing areas facing into the wind.
Ducks often tend to gather on beaches where food is relatively abundant, and where there are shelters with a wide field of vision so they can spot approaching predators, especially humans, from a distance.
One of the most important and interesting aspects to observe is undoubtedly the presence of passageways. Very often, ducks use the same air corridors to land and others to leave a watering place. Careful observation will enable you to identify these flight paths, and thus choose the perfect location for your blind, between corridors and landing zones.
3. A lively and attractive hunting area
Ducks attract more ducks
As a species, ducks are very rarely solitary: they move in groups and are attracted by fellow ducks. For this reason, it is very effective to try to call them with floating plastic shapes placed in front of your blind.
Choosing the right decoys and calls
Ducks need a realistic and lively habitat if they are going to be attracted to your open-air theatre. To achieve this, the quality and realism of the decoys is fundamental. You can also get ducks with motorised spinning wings that will mimic a bird taking a break. A real duck magnet!
The use of duck calls can also be very useful to bring back a flock flying away from you, or to get ducks to land closer. This takes practice to master but can really enhance the realism of your landing area.
The use of live decoys is the preserve of enthusiasts, particularly among French hunters using “hutte” or “gabion” blinds.
It is possible to position your decoys the night before, so as to disturb the hunting area as little as possible at daybreak and to increase your chances of reaching your blind without raising the alarm. There have been times when I have seen groups of a hundred ducks rise up and there was nothing I could do about it.
4. A blind that’s fit for purpose
The quality of your blind is key to your success. Ducks are incredibly wary game and will take off at more than 200 metres if they see you. It is essential to hide in a blind that has been camouflaged, either with vegetation or with textile nets or other blind tents.
You should also camouflage your body and head with suitable textiles and make sure to eliminate as much glare as possible. Finally, no movement or conversation should be allowed if you want to hear the fluttering wings of ducks landing!
5. Shotguns and ammunition
Waterfowl are generally hunted with 12- and 20-gauge shotguns. The semi-automatic remains the shotgun of choice for the migratory game hunter with its three-shot capacity. As you know, ducks are shot with steel shot in France. Consequently, a ¼” choke remains the most ballistically effective. There are several schools of thought concerning size of shot: in my opinion, the number 3 (equivalent to No. 5 lead) remains my all-purpose cartridge in this range; how about you?
So, over to you – what are your tips?