hard core elite blind bag blog

Duck Weather | Mother Nature Says It’s Time to Fly

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

Sweet Northerlies

If you live in the Midwest, you probably noticed some fair to heavy rain fall during the latter part of the week followed by a straight up nose dive of Mother Nature’s thermostat “DUCK WEATHER“. Here in Central Missouri, we saw locally heavy rains, up to 4 inches in some locations with lows Saturday night reaching as low as 29 degrees! Add in the 15 mph northwest winds, and that makes for a magical combination.

Over the past three days, it seems like we have really started picking up birds. I was able to spend some time out and about, and in my opinion there is a lot to be excited about. For starters, heavy fall rains have most reservoirs, farm ponds, and pretty such anything with a depression holding water. This is a huge benefit for a lot of reasons. For example, all of the moist soil plants like smartweed and millet that have spent the summer growing along the bank lines of the lakes and ponds have now been made available by the rainfall. These plants are what early season migrants will key in on. Additionally, all of the opportunistic wetlands that have been dry over the last two years have water and are looking good. In my opinion, more locations or opportunities to hunt are never a bad thing!

Hard Core Weather Bring Hard Core BirdsDuring “normal” or somewhat dry years, these opportunistic areas can still be very productive in terms of producing forage for ducks, when we get wet a fall such what we are experiencing now, these areas can be dynamite as long as they can continue to hold some water.

Another, sometimes overlooked aspect of these situations is the additional cover or structure that is now available to you, the hunter. We have all been there, trying to hunt areas with 15 feet of exposed bank behind us, and even though it can be effective I much prefer to hunt the back waters and scrub/shrub type areas that are made available.

At the risk of repeating myself from past articles, scouting is critical! Now, we all know that the importance of scouting is not lost upon all of you Hardcore Hunters (or DOGS) but here is where I think some guys fall a little short. Most folks will not scout until it’s absolutely necessary. For many, this may be a day or two before you plan to hunt. I personally think that scouting is a 12 month out of the year endeavor, and it’s never failed me.Hard Core | Its a life style for dogs too

The earliest we can hunt ducks here in the Show-Me State is October 25th, and with the cold shot we just received you can bet that I am going to be hitting hard. Over the last two days, in between hammering early season geese I have been keeping tabs on areas that I am considering as my opening day spots. At this point, I am scouting these areas before work or right at sunset, depending on my schedule. I am not interested in scouting every day, maybe twice to three times a week, but that will increase the closer we get to the opener. All I am interested in at this point is duck activity. Are we picking up more birds, or loosing birds? I am looking at consistency in terms of areas that ducks are using, where is the “X”, are their multiple “X’s”? I am also looking at the water in general, are we holding or loosing water? I will keep taking a peak at these areas, especially right after cold fronts and weather events. All of this information helps me develop my strategy going into opening day, and for a guy that hunts a lot of public areas, I want to be as prepared as I can be and to put myself in the best position to be successful.

From what I have seen here locally, we have defiantly picked up some birds with this last cold snap. I have been seeing more green wing teal, gadwall and pintails as well as a few mallards, and am excited to see what the next few weeks will bring. I know that I will be cleaning out my Hard Core Elite Blind Bag, dusting off my duck calls and making sure my Realtree Max-5 is ready to go!

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 HardCore-Brands.com. Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!  
Hard Core Decoys | Dabbler Ducks Waterfowl 101

Wetland Management 101 | Dabbler Ducks and Lots of Fun

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

Dabbler Ducks | Small feet and Skinny Legs?

For most waterfowl hunters, myself included the overarching dream that we all share is owning our own piece of duck paradise.  In our minds, we all see greenheads dropping from a bluebird sky into dozens of Hardcore Decoys swaying in the fall breeze.  For some lucky waterfowlers, this dream becomes a reality, but inevitably the same question arises, “I have this wetland, now what?”  Luckily, with a little bit of sweat-equity and patience, wetland management can be relatively inexpensive and produce excellent results. Hard Core Decoys | Wetland Management 101

All wetlands across the country have many things in common.  One ultimate fact is all were created by the forces of nature.  Natural disturbances such as floods, channel cuttings, droughts all helped to dictate the type, size and vegetative composition of millions of acres of wetlands, providing food and cover for a wide range of wetland species – especially ducks.

Today, those natural disturbances have all but been removed from our wetland systems.  As a result, the quality of habitat that is readily available for waterfowl and other wetland wildlife are very low.  Luckily, we can easily replace or manipulate these natural systems to help landowners achieve their objectives, which in most cases, is to increase their habitat availability for green-headed mallards.

Let’s discuss some tips and techniques that here in the mid-west can help make your wetland management a little easier, and help you increase your harvest this fall.

Two primary focuses of wetland management are management of vegetation and water management.  The two are closely related but for now let’s look at vegetation management.

The five most common ways to manage wetland vegetation are through water level management, prescribed fire, disking, mowing and chemical applications.  Utilizing water as a tool or technique to managing herbaceous vegetation is by far the most inexpensive and effective method of wetland management.  There are three basic ways to use water to manage vegetation.  The first being high water management.  High water management simply means holding pool elevations high for an extended period.  This method favors a more emergent marsh type habitat.  It will favor perennial plants, like cattails, but retard or even prohibit the growth of undesirable plants like cocklebur and sunflower.  One benefit of high water management is, in most cases this areas will have some available water going into the fall.  Not all wetlands have the luxury of water nearby and relay mostly on rain fall events.  If this situation sounds familiar, you may consider this technique not only as a management tool but also to help ensure your hunting this fall.Hard Core Waterfowl | Wetland Management 101

Controlled drawdowns or moist soil management simulate the natural evaporation of a wetland at predetermined times.  This is the most common water management technique practiced by wetland managers, as it yields high results in terms of food and habitat for waterfowl.  When completing a controlled drawdown, remember to take it slow!  You should aim to remove no more than 1″  off water off the wetland pool per day.  Just as equally important is the timing of the controlled drawdown.  The timing and speed of the drawdown will have a direct effect on the vegetative response.  As a duck hunter, I like to keep things as simple as possible.  Here are some ranges to keep in mind when completing a controlled or moist soil drawdown.

February 15th to April 15th

This time is typically referred to the early season.  Drawdowns during this time typically favor smartweeds with a good mix of other annual weeds as well as beneficial mudflats for spring migrants.Hard Core | Greenheads

April 15th to June 15th

Generally referred to as the mid-season, drawdowns during this time will yield the same vegetation response as an early drawdown, however there will be less smartweeds and more       millet.  This is the most common drawdown conducted by wetland owners as it producers fantastic results for moist soil diversity come fall.

June 15th to August 15th

This period is known as the late season.  The vegetative response here will often be a near pure stand of grasses, namely millet and sprangletop.  The design or layout of your wetland pool along with your water availability can dictate your management decisions as it relates to water management, however, when possible it is always best to try and provide a diversity of habitats come fall by practices multiple drawdowns.

When discussing water management, it is important to discuss the practice of re-flooding.  Aside from pulling the trigger on the first greenhead of the fall, firing up that pump for the first time can be just as exciting!

Re-flooding can begin as early as July 15th is some parts of the world.  One benefit to an early re-flood is the ability to irrigate existing moist soil plants, to help them produce the best results possible.  If this is the case, do not flood over 1/3 the height of the vegetation.  Water tolerant plants like millet and smartweed will respond tremendously.  It is very easy to get excited when it’s time to turn the pumps on, and many hunters make the mistake of pumping their wetlands full before the first shot sounds on opening day.  Wetlands should be re-flooded slowly in order to maximize habitat.  Remember, 99% of a mallard’s diet is found in moist soil wetlands and 100% of a dabbler ducks feeding takes place in water 18” in depth or less.

From water management, we move straight into prescribed fire.  Prescribed fire is one of the most economical ways to manage vegetation, especially unwanted trees.  A burn conducted during the growing season, after bud burst will kill most trees less than an inch in diameter.  If trees are an inch to three inches in diameter they will be severely weakened.  In this case, a burn the following year will usually finish them off.  Remember, a burn will only be effective if there is adequate fuel to create a hot fire.Unfortunately, not much is known about the effects of fire on persistent emergent vegetation (cattails, river bulrush).  Areas dominated by this type vegetation can be difficult to burn because of high moisture.  Burns conducted on actively growing perennial vegetation, like cattails, will almost always weaken and set it back.  The burn will also eliminate the growth from past growing seasons creating mudflats that will allow annual vegetation to germinate.  It will also speed up the drying process to allow for a mechanical disturbance, like disking.  Burns can also create semi-permanent openings that act as feeding areas for waterbirds and other wetland wildlife.Hard Core | Prescribed Fires for Waterfowl Hunting

Most state wildlife agencies will offer a prescribed fire training to help you get started with using prescribed fire.  When used properly, prescribed fire can be your biggest ally when managing your wetlands.

Mechanical disturbance such as disking has taken the place of scouring floods as the primary soil disturbance in wetlands.  While the costs associated with either renting or purchasing the necessary equipment can be a limiting factor, the results are tremendous.  A periodic soil disturbance (every 3-5 years) will change the annual vegetation component by rejuvenating the seed bank and by controlling succession and providing excellent habitat for waterfowl and wetland wildlife.  Disking can also be used to change the vegetative structure of an area (i.e. create mudflats, thin existing vegetation and/or remove woody or other unwanted vegetation).

Timing of the disking and subsequent drawdown is very important.  If completed in early summer it creates mudflat conditions that are ideal for invasive trees like cottonwoods and willows.  A fall disking coupled with an early drawdown (March 15) will help avoid invasion by airborne tree seeds , because early germinating moist soil plants, like smartweed, will have the ground covered before the airborne seeds drop.  If disking occurs in spring or summer and/or an early drawdown is undesirable, try to avoid a drawdown that parallels the peak fruiting period of cottonwoods and willows.

Mowing can be a very beneficial tool when completed for the right reasons.  The primary reason for mowing is to change the vegetative structure of an area.  A few reasons you might want to consider using mowing as a management tool in your wetland is to set back or remove unwanted trees, create pioneering areas (openings) for waterfowl and other waterbirds, set back undesirable vegetation to allow more desirable plants in the understory to compete or make an area more attractive and accessible to wildlife.  For example, if a pool’s maximum water depth is 6″ and the smartweeds are 12′ tall, mowing in early July will set the smartweeds back and the regrowth may only reach 3′ in height.  This technique will help you “show” water from above and will be much more accessible to wildlife, especially waterfowl.  It is important to remember, early mowing’s will grow back and may need to be recut.

When it comes to using chemicals as a management tool, I always use it as a last resort if all other management techniques fail to yield the results I want.  This is a very strategic decision that I sometimes make.  Using various herbicides can be time consuming, and can sometimes yield marginal results.  They tend to be expensive, and in some cases may be restricted in wetlands If you do elect to look at using chemicals to address wetland issues, be sure to use a brand that is approved for use in water such as Rodeo.

Owning and managing a wetland can be a lifelong job, however the lifelong memories you make will far outweigh every hour spent ensuring that your providing the best habitat you can, to ensure those greenheads are shining in your spread come fall!

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 HardCore-Brands.com. Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!   
Hard Core Decoys | Preparing for Early Season Goose Hunting

Hard Core Geese | Preparing for Early Season Goose Hunting!

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

Preparing for early season Goose is half the battle…and fun!

Much of the Midwest will offer an opportunity to chase resident Canada geese this fall.  For us here in the Show-Me State, that opportunity will come during the first two weeks in October.  I never miss the opportunity to chase geese; however, the early season can be especially fun and especially challenging.

In most cases, states that offer an early or resident goose season are intending to create this opportunity to help control the resident population.  As a result, many states will offer liberal bag limits, which will only add to the fun!

Given the relatively wet spring across the Midwest, along with average temperatures during the nesting season we are seeing high population number across the State and Midwest.  I am anticipating a lot of opportunities come fall.

Hard Core Decoys | Elite Series Full-Body Canada Goose DecoysAs it is with everything, scouting becomes critical for early season geese.  Geese on the whole are fairly routine in nature.  This is especially true with early geese that have not received any hunting pressure.  I do my best to keep tabs on my early season spots throughout the summer, mainly from an inventory point of view.  I have several areas that I hunt that will commonly hold a lot of birds throughout the year, but especially during the early season.  Keeping an eye on these areas, where birds will commonly nest help me estimate what I will have available come early season.

All that being said, one of the challenges that I face from time to time can be low numbers of birds. Here in my area, the early goose season has done its job, and has limited the numbers of resident Canada geese.   In years when resident nest success is low, it may be hard coming up with more than two areas that I can routinely hunt and have an opportunity to scratch a few birds.  This is where it is important to keep the gas tank full in the truck and be prepared to spend some time scouting.  When numbers are down, I will key in on larger reservoirs and the rivers.  They never let me down and have proven time and time again to be killer spots if you’re willing to put in a little work!

In years such as this year, when resident geese seem to be plentiful the biggest wildcard for me, in the areas that I hunt is crop harvest.  It just so happens that on most years, crop harvest is timed about 1 to 2 weeks prior to season.  This can be a good thing in that I have permission to hunt several of the crop fields surrounding my loafing areas, but it can also be a bad thing when all the birds pool up on a field that I cannot hunt.  Overall, I do find that crop harvest will tend to spread geese out, changing their patterns slightly.  Once the combines hit the fields, I am usually keeping a very sharp eye to catch the first few groups hitting the fields.Hard Core Brands | Hunting Cut Corn Field for Geese

Crop harvest has already begun here in the area.  I have been out the last couple of evenings, and have seen a lot of birds.  At this point, I have not seen any use in any of the harvested fields but I do expect that to change in the coming weeks.  Fortunately, harvest was on-time this year, rather than late as in the last two years.  At the moment, my game plan is rather simple.  Keep an eye on my birds.  I have already located there loafing and roosting areas.  Once harvest starts, I don’t get too worried if they begin to use the loafing areas I have identified less and less.  This usually is a result of the birds reacting to grain harvest.  There is a lot of water in my area, so the birds will tend to change their loafing habitats depending on where they are feeding that evening.  When I begin to worry is if the roosting areas change.  This is sure sign that some big things have happened and you need to get back out and get aggressive with scouting.

My preference is to hunt early season geese in cut corn or wheat stubble, in the evenings.  The birds in my area typically will fly from their roost location, to their loafing location where they spend most of the day.  They will usually fly out to feed in the grain field’s right before dark and that is where I like to do my damage.  That scenario is always number one, and I do my best to scout hard enough to make that scenario a reality.  However, in years with low numbers or late harvest, I will key in on loafing areas.  These areas I will typically hunt in the mornings through mid-day.  If the wheels fall off, and everything is going wrong, I head towards big water.

With any luck, I will find myself in my blind, bellied up to spread of Hard Core full bodies, with honkers on the wing here in a few weeks.  We’d love to hear your stories or early goose tactics, so please feel free to comment below.  Good luck!

By Chris McLeland, Professional Waterfowl and Wetland Biologist
Hard Core Decoys | Teal Ducks and Deocys When The Rain Falls

Hard Core Decoys | Teal Duck Season & A Full Rain Gauge

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

A Full Rain Gauge Can Mean Full Limits

By Chris McLeland, Professional Waterfowl and Wetland Biologist

Like most diehard waterfowlers, I look forward to teal season every year.  Teal duck season gives me the opportunity to get out and knock the dust off prior to the “main” waterfowl season, not to mention it’s an absolute blast to hammer away at a group of blue rockets as they come screaming into the spread of Hard Core blue-winged teal decoys.

Here in Central Missouri, the early teal season can sometimes ebb and flow depending on several factors. However, the two most important factors are water availability, and of course, the weather.  For many, lack of autumn rainfall can leave us limited in terms of hunting locations, shifting our focus to public waterfowl areas and reservoirs.  However, occasionally the stars align, and this year we have blessed with several rain events timed perfectly with a couple stronger than normal cold fronts.  When this happens, you better be ready!

Hard Core Decoys | Teal Ducks and Deocys When The Rain FallsOver the last two weeks, the many areas of the Midwest have been the recipient of two large fronts dropping heavy rainfall.  Where I am at (central Missouri), the last front, which happen to take place three days prior to the teal opener, dropped over 7” in some locations!  As a result, the first few days of teal season were fantastic!

Here are some tips that can help you take advantage of these situations, when “the stars align” in your area.

Teal’s preferred food is primarily the seeds of moist soil plants, such as smartweeds and millets, as well as some aquatic insects during the fall migration.  Teal will actively seek out shallow water, moist soil areas as well as exposed mudflats and key in on these areas.  So what does that mean?  During times of heavy rains, more preferred habitat will be made available.  This can be very beneficial for many reasons.  Heavy rainfall can provide opportunistic wetlands, or areas that typically would not be considered teal hunting areas, providing enough water to attract and hold birds.  These areas are often overlooked by many hunters.  As intensively managed public areas become pressured, teal will actively seek these small, less-pressured areas out.  During, and directly following, a rain event can be an excellent time to chase teal in these locations, as teal will typically be actively seeking out new areas to forage. These “fresh” areas can be more productive than those that have started to become over-hunted.

Wetlands are dynamic, and every changing.  In many cases, it doesn’t take much rainfall to add a hunting spot or two on a intensively managed area, or add just enough water to make the small side channel or slough that you have driven by a hundred times a “lights out” spot to shoot a limit of teal.

You can find all of our Waterfowl Hard Goods in our catalog here

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 HardCore-Brands.com. Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!
Hard Core Decoys | Hunting Small Wetlands with Big Success

Hard Core Decoys | Small Wetlands Produce Big Results

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

Small Wetlands Produce Big Results | Don’t Underestimate the Little Guy

By Chris McLeland, Professional Waterfowl and Wetland Biologist

In today’s modern society, all too often we think bigger is better.  I can’t hardly go to any fast food restaurant and not “supersize it”.  It’s ingrained in our DNA these days to make the association that the larger something is or the more you receive, the better it is.  This is no different in the wetland world.  We tend write off small marshes as being unimportant and focus primarily on the large wetland areas as we plan our hunting trips afield.  I am here to tell you that if you can break that philosophy, you might just reap the BIGGER rewards this fall.

Wetlands provide a wide range of benefits including flood storage, reduced soil erosion, improved water quality and last but certainly not least, habitat for wildlife such as waterfowl.  Small wetlands provide these same benefits.  In fact, they might be more important than the larger ones. Why?

Well, small wetlands in or adjacent to farmlands serve as important islands of habitat providing food, cover, and water for everything from white-tailed deer to marsh wrens.  Waterfowl are especially attracted to these wetlands during the spring and fall migrations.  From a recreational standpoint, some of the finest waterfowl hunting occurs on small 5 to 10 acre wetlands embedded in crop fields.  These idled areas can easily pay for themselves and then some by leasing the hunting rights.

Hard Core Decoys | Hunting Small Wetlands with Big SuccessDuring the 2013 season, I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to hunt with a good friend on his farm in Northwest Missouri.  The goal of this trip, to shoot a limit of greenheads!  My hunting partner had been going on and on about the CRP CP23 wetland that had just been completed on his farm.  Once we reached the blind, I was amazed to see that the wetland itself was only 20 acres, with really less than 5 acres of water available.  To say that I wasn’t very confident was an understatement.  Nevertheless, we slid the layout boats into the water and set off on what I expected to be a fun afternoon of laying on my back, watching the sky and “BS’ing” with my buddy.

A hunt that started with low expectations quickly became one of my best hunts all year!  Heavy hunting pressure on the surrounding public and private lands had several thousand birds looking for a place to sit and relax; these 20 acres had been offering them applicable refuge for many days.  A detail my partner just happened to forget to mention.  I learned a very valuable less that day, size doesn’t matter! Well, at least in terms of wetlands…

When allowed to function as natural refuges, remnant sloughs and pothole wetlands can provide many benefits.  Some are obvious, some not so obvious.  Aside from the wildlife habitat they provide, they also provide flood storage during wet periods reducing crop loss as well as the need to run pump out facilities. In addition, these wetlands filter out sediments and slow soil erosion reducing the need to clean drainage ditches. All these minor contributions add up to one thing, a stronger bottom-line for the farm producer and more habitat for the ducks.

You can find all of our Waterfowl Hard Goods in our catalog here

 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 HardCore-Brands.com. Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!  

The Landing Zone

  • Duck Weather | Mother Nature Says It’s Time to Fly

    Duck Weather | Mother Nature Says It’s Time to Fly

    Sweet Northerlies If you live in the Midwest, you probably noticed some fair to heavy rain fall during the latter part of the week followed by a straight up nose dive of Mother Nature’s thermostat "DUCK WEATHER". Here in Central Missouri, we saw locally heavy rains, up to 4 inches… Read More »
  • Wetland Management 101 | Dabbler Ducks and Lots of Fun

    Wetland Management 101 | Dabbler Ducks and Lots of Fun

    Dabbler Ducks | Small feet and Skinny Legs? For most waterfowl hunters, myself included the overarching dream that we all share is owning our own piece of duck paradise.  In our minds, we all see greenheads dropping from a bluebird sky into dozens of Hardcore Decoys swaying in the fall… Read More »