Hard Core Greens to Full Honkers | Switching Gears

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

Time to Shift Gears?

by Chris McLeland 

Right about this time of year, we start getting the itch. We start getting the itch to put the Hard core green heads, and pick up the Hard core full honkers! The one thing we love and appreciate about hunting here in the mid-west is the opportunity to take advantage of some multiple species hunts, chasing green headed mallards and long necked honkers at the same time. However, when the ducks start getting stale, then it’s time to start breaking out the short reeds.

geese3We have been hitting it hard, chasing ducks almost every day over the past week. We put in the time and the effort and enjoyed some excellent hunts; however, the action has been few and far between. As we like to say, “It’s not easy” and that has certainly been the case. One thing that you come to realize when you chase waterfowl is that even the best laid plans may never come to pass. Well, we have planned to chase ducks on up until the end of December, however, with the birds becoming spookier by the day it was time for a change of pace.

Over the past week, we have been enduring above average temperatures for December. This has been a slight benefit when it comes to chasing green headed ducks, however, it has pushed the geese back into an early fall pattern. With some scouting, we were able to lock down several groups, all using pasture ponds in the area. From what we could tell, the birds seemed to be sitting for most of the day, however, some would get out and stretch their wings mid-morning.

We had two pasture ponds in the area, so the decision was to run some traffic and see what we could scratch out. The set up was simple, 3 dozen Hard core full bodies with a dozen floaters was the gear of choice. We didn’t get in a hurry, hitting the field about 7:30a.m. With the mild temperatures and lack of arctic weather, we still haven’t seen the large pushes of Canada Geese that we would have typically started to see this time of year. We didn’t expect to get into many, but we hoped to see enough to make the effort worth it.

Once the birds started to fly, it was clear that they must have read the script the night before. The Hard core full bodies had the birds committing from 300 yards out, and as any avid goose hunter will tell you, when the birds are dropping their feet from 300 yards, it’s about to get real! Very little calling was required as the decoys and blinds did the rest.

I can tell you that we will continue to grind it out, and put some green headed ducks down in the decoys between now and the end of the season, but, it was nice to switch gears for a little while and take advantage of some pasture pond honkers! We will continue to keep an eye on the goose numbers and you can bet that we will be in the corn fields, with the Hard cores on full display in the near future!


Hard Core Waterfowling | Plan of Attack…Like Black Friday

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in It's Not Easy, Waterfowl Hunting

The Mass Exodus!

by Chris McLeland 

We like to go into every activity with a plan of attack.  Whether its coaching football, helping my wife with Holiday shopping on black Friday, or waterfowling, I always have a plan.  This year, the plan I devised for the 2014-15 waterfowl season consisted as follows: Be selective on my hunting opportunities early in the season.  Here in Central Missouri we typically start seeing larger migration events right around the second week of November, peaking just about Thanksgiving.  I wanted to make sure that I maximized my opportunities and take advantage of the fronts.  My plan culminated in hunting everyday beginning the week of Thanksgiving, running all the way through till freeze up, at which time I would change tactics and begin hunting big water or the river.
Like I said….That was MY plan.  Mother Nature on the other hand, hand a plan of her own.  Thanks to Tropical Storm Nuri, the Mid-West has begun to endure one of the largest arctic blasts in recorded history.  Here in Central Missouri, we went from 77 degrees on Monday, to 17 degrees yesterday, with ice forming by the hour.  The areas in South Dakota that I pheasant hunted two weeks ago are now covered by 8-10 inches of fresh snow.  All of these factors add up to one of the biggest waterfowl migrations that I have ever seen.

I managed to hit the marsh on November 10th, the day before the front was supposed to arrive here in Central Missouri.  At that time, the area that I was hunting was holding right around 30,000 ducks of which most were early season migrants.  The high that day topped out at 77 degrees!  Needless to say, hunting was just a little slow.  I was hoping that we might catch some birds moving into that area on the front edge of the weather, but that didn’t happen.

Flash forward 24 hours to November 11th, Veterans Day and it’s a different story all together.  Temperatures were in the mid 30’s and falling by 5 a.m.  The wind was northwest at 25 with gusts up to 35 mph.  As a waterfowler, you know what those ingredients add up to!  Beginning Tuesday, November 11th and still continuing as of today, we have seen waterfowl populations skyrocket to close to 200,000 in the area!  We have also seen the beginnings of an early freeze which have some Hard Core duck hunters breaking out the ice eaters in preparations.

We have been fortunate enough to take advantage of the increase in bird numbers, and get out burn through some steel shot these last few days.  With the new birds, massive amounts of food available and open water, hunting has been outstanding.
Earlier in the week, the gusty winds played into our favor by aiding in keeping the unprotected areas of our wetlands open, while the protected areas where icing up by the day.  That has all started to change some over the last 24 hours.  As we knew it would, the wind has subsided and the temperatures continue to fall, with a low of 9 degrees predicted for Monday night.  These cold temperatures along with the snow events predicted for the mid-west in the next 24 hours in a little concerning, however, the good news is there is plenty of food available to keep these birds fat and happy.  The river along with lakes close by should remain open, and if we can keep the majority of these birds in the area through next week it appears that a warming trend is in our future.  If we do in fact receive a blessing from Mother Nature in the form of a thaw event, it will be GAME ON.  Migration reports that I have seen still show large numbers of waterfowl in South Dakota, which are currently utilizing the open water on the large water bodies so there are still birds yet to come.

At the moment, we are holding a lot of birds, and it’s up in the air as to how many will stick around through next week and how many will push on southward.  At this point, hunting smart and being well prepared for the conditions will help make all the difference.  Try to remember that waterfowl have two main priorities at the moment, keeping open water and eating.  Birds will hold extremely tight during these cold conditions in order keep open water.  They will typically not fly until the warmest part of the day.

On days like these, we will not be in too big of a hurry to get out to the marsh.  When hunting in frozen conditions, it is always beneficial to wait until you can see what you’re getting into.  Another benefit of waiting until sunrise to head out is that you can easily identify any open water, being kept open by the birds.  Nothing is more frustrating than chopping your way out to a spot that you think the birds “should” be, breaking a hole, setting up only see the birds diving into a hole 200 yards away that they have kept open all night.  So take your time.  Often times, it may seem like the birds of packed up headed south when really they are still there, so continue to scout and be diligent.  Trust in your equipment.  The Hard Core full body mallards and Canada geese are perfect for these types of situations, and will have those birds committing on the first pass.  Keep grinding, and going Hard Core, you might be surprised just much fun you can have with 3 inches and a little frost on the pumpkin!

Chris McLeland is a professional waterfowl and wetlands biologist from central Missouri. Chris is an avid waterfowler, and has recently been added as an expert contributor to Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!   

Hard Core Apprentice Blind | Keeping Tradition CLOSE

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in It's Not Easy, Waterfowl Hunting

Passing on the Tradition from Generation to Generation

by Justin Welker

I started waterfowl hunting in 2004, 10 years later I think about it 365 days a year. I occupy the days in between seasons by scouting, organizing gear, and increasing our decoy collection. You can tell a Hard Core waterfowler by how they react when a flock of geese flies over head in August. Everyone stops talking and looks up!

I began hunting with a friend of mine in college, his dad had taken him waterfowl hunting since he was a little boy. I will remember that first hunt for the rest of my life, we shot 17 ducks of all species and had amazing sausage patties in the boat. There were 3 of us in the boat, and his dad stood on the shore and watched. He had his gun, but he actually enjoyed watching us shoot and have fun. I remember thinking that day how odd it was that someone who loved to hunt so much would just stand on the shore and watch. His dad still does the same thing, he will drive over and hour and a half to lay in a field with us, he may shoot, he may not, but that’s not what it’s all about, it’s about the tradition and passing on the love of the sport.

Hard Core Kids | Keep your kids close, even in your waterfowl blindHis son and I have both had babies in the last 5 months, all boys, he had twins (lucky him). We live across the street from each other, we work with each other, and we hunt everything under the sun together. So now when we get together it is hard not to talk about how we will probably end up being like his dad in 30 years. We will just lay in the blinds and watch our boys shoot, and maybe once they have filled their limits we will jump in and have some fun. We hope that our boys will enjoy the sport, and we can pass on our secrets, and our decoys.

I have grown up in the outdoors fishing and hunting since I was old enough to hold a fishing pole while sitting in a stroller. The outdoors helped shape me into the man I am today. It taught me respect for wildlife and firearms, it taught me the love for family and allowed me to spend time with my dad. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a boat, blind, or tree stand and watching the sun come up with a cup of coffee and a sausage patty.

Hard Core | Start Kids Hunting EarlyIf you have a chance, take a young person hunting or fishing, it doesn’t matter if you kill or catch anything, but just spend time with them talking. Teach them something new every day, let them tell stories about their day, let them exaggerate about the size of their fish or how many geese they killed. Hard Core makes a great layout blind that allows you to be near your junior hunter, but still stay hidden. It is the Hard Core Apprentice layout blind. This is a 2 person layout blind that allows you to coach, call, and shoot while helping your partner beside you. I cannot wait to lay in my Hard Core Apprentice blind with my son and see the look on his face when he hears that first honk in the morning.

Justin Welker has a degree in wildlife and fisheries, waterfowl expert, and avid hunter from Pennsylvania. He manages thousands of acres for better habitat and hunting, and when not helping others on their property, he’s out in the marshes and fields of the Northeast.
Hard Core | Youth and the Future of Waterfowl

Youth Season | Hard Core Season with a Reason!

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in Hunting, Waterfowl Hunting, Youth Waterfowl

Youth Season – The Season with a Reason!

by Chris McLeland

Two weeks before waterfowl season officially kicks off here in the Show-Me state, hunters below the age of 16 have a chance to get out and hopefully make some memories. Many States offer youth waterfowl seasons, and if you haven’t taken advantage of these opportunities to introduce youth to sport of waterfowl hunting, I strongly suggest you give it a try. I promise you will not be disappointed!

Hard Core | Youth and the Future of WaterfowlGetting youth involved in the outdoors is a very important responsibility that all of us share. My earliest memories of hunting involved my father and grandfather at the age of 5, well before anyone trusted me with a firearm! Although I wasn’t pulling the trigger, my family made sure to make it fun while at the same time teaching me the ins and outs of the outdoors and the hunting tradition. One of the biggest challenges we face as sportsmen is what is called “recruitment”. In the fast paced, high speed, electronically driven world that we live in it is becoming harder and harder to add new outdoors men & women to our sport. Current research has shown that it takes roughly 6 successful trips to the field before a youth will begin to embrace and value the outdoor and hunting culture. And while that may not seem like a big deal, it is! Think about all of the States that rely on tax dollars raised by sportsmen & women to allow them to manage their public lands. Think about the collective voice us as sportsmen& women have politically. No matter how you slice it, it is very important to take every opportunity to get our youth in touch with the outdoors!

So, this past weekend, we did just that! A good friend of mine, and avid duck hunter Nate had called me three weeks ago, inquiring if I had any advice on a place to take his son and daughter during the youth season. I had a spot or two in mind that I had been scouting for a while and I told Nate that I thought I could help him out. While this would not be my Nate’s children’s first outing in the marsh, I had decided to bring my 3 ½ year old daughter, Savannah along. This would be her very first hunting trip ever! Needless to say, I was really excited for opening day to get her. The opener finally came and I met up with Nate and company and we headed out. I had been scouting a couple of backwater areas off a nearby reservoir that were loaded with food. The recent heavy rains had increased the water levels enough that there was a plethora of moist soil habitat available. I had a suspicion that if we could get their first, we would be in for some action. Upon arriving to the parking lot I was very surprised to see no other vehicles in the parking lot. I knew then, that it was game on!

Hard Core | Youth and the Future of WaterfowlThe spread was rather conservative and consisted of the Hard core Marsh pack and Whistler pack, and looked fantastic in the morning sunrise. Since the two shooters had a little experience under their belt, we elected to put them in layout boats blended into the moist soil, while Nate, Savannah and I manned some marsh seats in a button bush willow blind directly behind them. One thing that will never get old to me is the shear excitement that these youth have for waterfowling after the first shots ring out. A group of teal streaking into the spread right after shooting time did just that! As six shots rang out, Nate and I sat laughing to one another. Neither one of us had to worry about calling the shot, they were letting em’ rip! At one point, I recalled looking over at my 3 ½ year old and she was just in total awe of what was taking place around her. Whether it was the ducks working the spread, or the deer we saw she was taking it all in!

One thing I have learned about taking youth to the field is not to push it. Most youth will make it through the majority of the morning but they’re not necessarily built to make it all day. This trip was no different. Once things started to slow down, around 10:30 you could tell that bellies were growling and interest was starting to wane. We began to pack it up and head to the local diner, but not before the two young guns put the smack down on a few teal, a gadwall and one beautiful drake mallard.

I got to tell ya, as much as I love putting the whammy on a big ole’ green headed mallard or long necked honker I think I am starting to enjoy exposing youth to the sport of waterfowling just as much if not more.

Chris McLeland is a professional waterfowl and wetlands biologist from central Missouri. Chris is an avid waterfowler, and has recently been added as an expert contributor to Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!
Hard Core | Mag Mallard Deployment 101

Get Serious with Hard Core | Pre-Rigged Mallards

Written by Steve Smolenski on . Posted in Hunting, Waterfowl Hunting

Get Serious, with the Pre-Rigged Mag Mallards!

by Chris McLeland

We have been involved with waterfowl both personally and professionally for many years, and we have to tell you, it never gets old. Having the opportunity to work closely with waterfowl keeps reminding just how keen their senses are. Let’s face it; we’ve all been the unfortunate recipient of ducks flaring out of the hole at 60 yards for one reason or another. For us, the difference between a successful hunt and going home with a handful of spent shell hulls boils down to two things; 1) being in the right place at the right time & 2) tricking the eyeballs of those wary waterfowl. Being in the right place at the right is simply a product of good scouting. Tricking the eyeballs of mallard, depends on how well you’re hid and the quality and realism of your decoys.
Hard Core | Pre-Rigged Mag Mallards #1Name a decoy…..I’ve probably used it, but to me nothing has produced results that the Hard core magnum mallards have, and here’s why! To me, these decoys provide a sense of realism that is unmatched. They are extremely light weight, and provide motion in your spread with even the slightest breeze, and we all know how important that is! These bad boys have an absolutely durable construction, and have held up against the all the ware and tare that I could dish out in a 60 day duck season. The paint scheme on each Hard core decoy is, to me, unbelievable! The Hard core Magnum Mallards will convince even the most stubborn ducks to break away and come take a look. The amazing realism, durability and vibrant paint scheme are the X factors that make these decoys the deadliest on the market.

As I have gotten older, I find myself looking for the “easier” way to get from A-Z. I have to admit, I used to be the guy that would be reluctant to make “the move”. You all know what I’m talking about….when the bird’s don’t want to be where you are; rather the X is 100 yards away. I absolutely hated picking up the spread, winding up the line and making the move. It seemed like it took an eternity. Well, let me tell you, if you haven’t been introduced to the Texas Rig system you should become familiar. It has changed the way I hunt waterfowl. Having the ability to pick up an entire spread, make youHard Core | Mag Mallards and Decoy Bag r move and be ready to pull the trigger in a matter of minutes has greatly increased my rate of success!

The Hard core pre-rigged Magnum Mallards come standard with 36” Texas Rigs. This not only saves you money up front, but automatically makes you a more effective waterfowler! I have personally changed all of my decoys over to Texas Rig systems, and you won’t find me buying anything other than Hard core pre-rigs from here on out. Add the Hard core Texas Rig decoy bag to the mix, and you’ll be looking for your best duck recipe!

Chris McLeland is a professional waterfowl and wetlands biologist from central Missouri. Chris is an avid waterfowler, and has recently been added as an expert contributor to Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!

The Landing Zone

  • Hard Core | Atlantic Flyway Report

    Hard Core | Atlantic Flyway Report

    Atlantic Flyway - Hard Core Manager: Jeremy Bedette Region: Northeast Some seasons are closed, some still going, and some waiting for the next to open. One thing is for sure, the North has snow and Canada Geese everywhere. With a recent nor'easter much of the Northeast/New England were covered up… Read More »
  • Hard Core | Mississippi Flyway Report

    Hard Core | Mississippi Flyway Report

    Mississippi Flyway - Hard Core Manager: Tom Forman Region: Upper Mississippi By the end of next week the majority of the states in the upper flyway will be closed for ducks. The duck population in northern Illinois is uncountable at this time. They are "EVERYWHERE!” The warm weather and steady… Read More »