By Jason Akl
When someone mentions the phrase duck hunting, most of us envision a group of guys hunkered down in a camouflage boat amidst a hundred decoys on a big lake. While this may be the case for some hunters, not everyone has access to a large body of water where ducks take refuge, or a boat to sit in while waiting for the ducks to fly within range. If you are a part of this second group, you can still duck hunt with a good chance at bagging a few trophy mallards or wood ducks.
Jump shooting ducks is a viable option for water fowlers looking for a change from the norm, and the rewards are numerous. First and foremost, jump shooting gives hunters a crack at birds that most others either overlook or don't care to chase. Secondly, it's just you and the ducks in unspoiled real estate with this type of hunting. Small ephemeral ponds and streams are extremely beautiful and peaceful in the fall, giving the hunter plenty to stay busy with between ducks soaring off the water.
Jump Shooting Needs
As far as equipment is concerned, jump shooting really does not require hunters to go out and break the bank. Any 12-gauge shotgun in the sporting goods department will give you the power and range to consistently knock down ducks. Three-inch steel shot shells in heavy-shot sizes work best. Don't forget to bring a few extra three-and-a-half-inch shells, just in case you run into a goose or two hiding out in the sloughs.
If you only plan on jumping small ponds, then a pair or waders will allow you to collect all your ducks. But if you stalk small river systems, a well-trained dog or canoe will make your life much easier. In most cases, a good retriever will save you from many a headache when in the field. Not only will a good dog fetch ducks that have fallen in the water, they'll also find ducks that have fallen into the thick brush or woods.
Jump Shooting Techniques
One of the best parts of jump shooting ducks is that no special skills or techniques are required. Hunters of almost any skill level can do it with great success, from the novice hunter to the seasoned veteran, and the ability to avoid detection by moving carefully and quietly will be your greatest asset.
Stealth is of utmost importance when jumping ponds. Ducks have an uncanny ability to pick up the slightest movement and sound in the woods, driving them into the air before you can get into range. Walking very slowly and dressing in camouflage will help, but hunting on windy, wet days will be the only way to truly hide your approach. If you are in an area with very little cover or structure, then crawling on your hands and knees might be the only way to get you close enough to shoot.
When you start jumping ponds, keep a keen eye out for how ducks react when spooked off a pond or river. This important information will aid you in future hunts. Most ducks sit on ponds in certain areas for a reason; either that is where they find food, or it is close to an escape route. Understanding where ducks are going to be on the pond you plan to hunt will help you and your partner position yourselves for more effective shooting.
If you can find a buddy to hunt with, sneak up to the pond from two different sides (not directly across from each other) with one person coming from the escape route and one from the most likely landing path. This two-sided approach should at least push some of the ducks by being shot at or spooked towards one of the hunters. In the unfortunate circumstance that you do spook a few ducks before you get into range, hunker down for a second or two and be quiet. If the ducks did not get a good look at you, in many cases they'll circle around and come back to the pond, giving you a second chance to either pass shoot them or take them as they try and land back on the water.
Finding Duck Locations
If you are interested in jump shooting a few ducks but aren't sure where to start, a good place to begin looking is secluded forest wetlands and bottomland hardwoods near wetlands. Streams, natural ponds, oxbow lakes, wooded sloughs, wooded islands, beaver ponds, and seasonally flooded hardwoods contain the much needed habitat and feeding areas waterfowl require. There is no real secret to finding a good jump shooting body of water. Hunters need to frequent their local waterways regularly to see where the ducks have taken refuge from hunters. A pond that is hot one week might not see ducks again for the rest of the season, depending on weather and pressure, so knowing your local waterways well will give you a better shot at seeing ducks.
When you happen to find a small pond or river area that consistently harbors ducks, be careful not to shoot the area out. Excessive shooting causes ducks to leave an area for good. If you are hunting a very large area or several small ponds, try leaving a certain part or a single pond free from shooting. This small sanctuary provides protection for ducks, ensuring that a few ducks will be present on at least part of the area, hopefully moving onto your hunting ground later on.
Monitoring the times at which you hunt is another good consideration. In most cases individuals are hampered by work and busy lives, so getting out duck hunting happens whenever free time presents itself. If possible, hunters should hunt in the early morning allowing ducks to return and feed undisturbed before nightfall. If ducks receive pressure from hunters at night and repeatedly during the day, they will flee small ponds and waterways looking for heavier structured areas to protect themselves.
If sitting out for long hours in the cold alongside other hunters just does not do it for you anymore, then jump shooting ducks might just be the change you and your hunting companions have been looking for. Explosive action and picturesque landscapes in conjunction with minimal hunting pressure makes this type of hunting exhilarating and fun for all ages. Get out and visit a few ponds or small creeks in your area and see what's waiting for you this upcoming season.