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!  

Gumbo Weather

Written by Hard Core on . Posted in Hunting, Waterfowl Hunting

By John Bienvenu

IMG_4698Some people call it autumn, others call it fall, but where I come from, people refer to it as “Gumbo Weather”. When the first cold snap hits South Louisiana, people do strange things. Turtlenecks, scarves, leather gloves, and three-layer goose-down camouflage jackets appear out of nowhere as soon as the temperature dips into the forties.  I think it’s mostly due to the fact that winter, in its true sense, hardly ever shows her face down here. Our sub-tropical climate has left me sweating in shorts the last three out of four Christmases.  What I’m getting at is that people take advantage of cool weather in the South. For me, a cool front in November means the birds will be stirring and I will be hunting.   IMG_3935

Jennings is a small community 45 minutes west of my home in Lafayette. The city is known mostly for it’s successful rice farming industry, which in turn makes the Jennings area recognized statewide for it’s waterfowl hunting.  Some very good family friends of mine have a lease right outside of the city limits. I have known Dr. Carl Breaux and his son David my entire life. My dad grew up down the street from “Uncle Carl”, and David has been like another brother to me since childhood. Over the years, David has become one of my most reliable hunting companions and a valued entertainer. He’s truly his father’s son. He’s always quoting movies, performing an impression, or doing just about anything to get a laugh out of me. Needless to say, when the Breaux’s invited me on a Saturday morning duck hunt, I knew it would be exciting and memorable. After closing down the restaurant Friday afternoon, David and I packed our things and made the short drive west to Jennings. Once there, we hit the sack early, anxious to see what the next morning would have in store.   IMG_3912

We woke up early to a mild Louisiana morning; so much for that cold front. Regardless of the weather change, we loaded up the decoys and met up with Gus, the farm’s property manager, and his black lab Mace. Gus is a helicopter mechanic by trade but his true passion is being out in the field. Mace, on the other hand, is a retriever by trade who’s true passion is just being with Gus. One thing I truly enjoy about hunting is witnessing the companionship between a man and his dog. So much time, effort, and love go into forming such a relationship and when a dog is trained correctly, it’s sincerely something remarkable to see.  I’d hunted once before with the pair and I knew these two are on the same wavelength. Gus explained that the four of us would be hunting the Airstrip, a long stretch of levee in the rice fields with about six inches of water on each side; prime waterfowl habitat. We hopped in the ATV and headed out to the field. We went down a straight gravel road then turned left across a canal when all hell broke loose. The light on the front of the ATV spooked about ten Mexican Squealer ducks that immediately flew directly into my face and David’s chest. To you non-Louisiana natives, the proper name for a squealer is a Fulvous whistling duck.  People down here tend to have a different name for just about everything. Anyway, David managed to pin one duck behind his back for a few seconds before it wiggled out and took off followed by Mace in hot pursuit. When the chaos was over, all I had to show for it was a beard full of feathers and a blind bag full of duck crap. The morning started out as eventful as I had expected. IMG_5031

We composed ourselves and made it far enough to where we could park the vehicles and start our short trek to the blind. Mace led the way, dipping in and out of the taller grasses and crossing the levee numerous times. We reached a small pond about three hundred yards down the levee. Gus started throwing out decoys and we went to get set up in the sunken blind… or so we thought. As I peered down into the hole with my headlamp I realized there would have to be a change of plans. The blind was filled with water almost chest deep. I hesitantly informed Gus, whom I knew wouldn’t take the news too well, and told him it would be no problem for us to cover up in the tall grass a little further down. He grumbled a bit but knew it was too late to find another spot to hunt. The decoy spread was flawlessly set up for the north wind, and we impatiently waited for daylight. Ten minutes before shooting time, our eyes began to adjust and we started to make out the first few flights of birds. It started out slow, but within minutes, the pond was filled with ducks. Birds were funneling in from every direction; straight above our heads, landing in the decoys, lighting on the robo-duck. It really was an extraordinary sight. All we could do was chuckle and wait for shooting time with anticipation. If this flight kept up, we would be done shooting within the hour. The clock hit 6:05 and it was “on pecan”. A group of five teal swung straight into the decoy spread and Gus called the shot. We dropped three and Mace went to work. Before he could pick up  the third bird we dropped three more, then another, and another! The birds couldn’t get enough of the spread laid out and we made short work of the morning.  When the smoke cleared our group had successfully bagged our twenty-four bird limit, and were picking up decoys before 7 o’clock! We headed back to the camp where we took a few pictures, cleaned the birds, and divvied up the catch.  

All in all it was quite a memorable hunt in the rice fields west of Jennings. The company was good, the conversation was great, and the flight was truly one to remember. I’m looking forward to making a few hunts in the near future with this bunch and the many stories that will undoubtedly  

Grassland conservation efforts moving ahead

Written by hardcore on . Posted in Waterfowl Hunting

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced efforts to increase its efforts to work with landowners in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) to conserve grasslands and wetlands. Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie announced today that NRCS is committing up to $35 million over the next three years for prairie conservation in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.


Grassland preservation equals more ducks and geese!

“We are pleased to see NRCS renewing its commitment to grassland and wetland conservation in the PPR, which is so critical to waterfowl production,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “We’re seeing unprecedented pressures to convert native prairie and drain wetlands. We need to look for new ways to make conservation programs more economically competitive and attractive to landowners.”

Conservation Reserve Program acres have dropped substantially over the last few years and these trends are expected to continue. “This investment by NRCS will keep grasslands and wetlands intact by helping farmers and ranchers conserve working lands for livestock production, hayland and wildlife habitat,” Hall said.

As part of the 2014 Farm Bill, NRCS will offer private landowners a mix of financial and technical assistance opportunities to restore wetlands and grasslands and help mitigate a recent regional trend of conversion to croplands.

The farm bill also includes a “Sodsaver” provision, which reduces

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crop insurance subsidies for farmers and ranchers who convert native grasslands for crop production.

Thanks to a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant awarded in 2011, DU and several other project partners are also working on a pilot project in North Dakota to create new carbon credit opportunities for landowners who permanently protect grasslands. The project partners are currently validating this program and hope to have it available to producers in late 2014 to early 2015.

Ducks Unlimited press release.

The Landing Zone

  • Hard Core Geese | Preparing for Early Season Goose Hunting!

    Hard Core Geese | Preparing for Early Season Goose 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… Read More »
  • Hard Core Decoys | Teal Duck Season & A Full Rain Gauge

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

    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… Read More »