How to Maximize Early Season Success by Waterfowl Hunting in Mud Flats
June 21st, 2016 |
Waterfowl Hunting in Mud Flats | Early Season Waterfowl Hunting
To be a successful waterfowl hunter, means to be able to overcome all obstacles and adapt to any situation that comes their way. This statement certainly holds true when it comes to putting themselves in the best possible position to be successful. With July just around the corner, the countdown to opening day is well underway, and soon it will be time to begin to fire up the Chevy and hit the roads in search of your early season locations. Early season scouting typically involves finding areas with an abundance of moist soil vegetation such as millets and smartweeds. These areas are hot spots when it comes to locating and harvesting early season ducks and geese. Although moist soil marshes and impoundments can certainly be key areas for early ducks and geese, there is another critical habitat that is often overlooked and even sometimes underrated. Waterfowl hunting in mud flats during early season will keep you in the birds come opening day.
Why Are Mud Flats Important?
To really understand why mud flat habitats are important, you have to first understand the needs of the waterfowl you are chasing. Unless you happen to live in an area with high resident waterfowl populations, most of waterfowl hunters relay on the migration to send ducks and geese their way. The ducks and geese that typically begin heading south at the first sign of fall are referred to as early season migrants. Early season migrants are typically species such as Blue and Green Wing Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shovler, Widgeon and Gadwall. While there may be a few other species around, including Mallards, the vast majority of the “Big Duck” push has not yet made its way southward.
During the early season, the temperatures are still very mild in most areas. Weather, and specifically temperature has effect on all wildlife, and waterfowl are no different. Due to a lack of cold temperatures to drive them to forage on foods high in carbohydrates, early season migrants will be keying in on moist soil plants as well as insects and crustaceans. Foods like seasonally flooded grain fields may have some use during the early season, however, chances are the ducks and geese using these areas are not foraging on the grain but rather the insects and crustaceans.
When it comes to providing an ample supply of insects and crustaceans such as snails for waterfowl to forage on, mud flats habitats can be hard to beat during the early season. Many insects and invertebrates require the exact habitats that mud flats provide, and where there is food, there will be ducks and geese! If you have ever observed ducks and geese foraging on a mud flat, you have probably noticed that while they will wade and dabble across the entirety of the mud flat a large portion of the foraging takes place along the waterline. This transitional area between the dry ground and the water is an excellent place to locate seeds, and other forages. Long story short, mud flats provide a certifiable buffet of food for waterfowl, which can be a valuable piece of information to have when planning your early season strategy. This is why waterfowl hunting in mud flats can become one of the best areas to hunt come early season.
When to Start Waterfowl Hunting in Mud Flats
Most states kick off waterfowl season between the months of September and October, with some states offering an early Teal season prior. Waterfowl will utilize mud flat areas throughout the course of the season for various reasons. Mud flats not only provide excellent foraging opportunities but they also provide waterfowl with an excellent loafing and roosting location. However, given the shallow nature of these areas, mud flats do begin to lose their appeal once the temperatures begin to fall. These areas are generally some of the very first to ice over, and as such waterfowl will abandon them for “greener pastures”.
Waterfowl hunting in mud flats and mud flat habitats during the first few weeks of the waterfowl season can truly be your best opportunity to maximize these areas. Although these areas do tend to lose their luster once freeze up occurs, do not count them out just yet. Should you happen to encounter a thaw out during the waterfowl season, ducks and geese will begin to “pioneer” new areas and areas that were once utilized, in which case mud flat habitats can be a diamond in the rough.
Clearly, weather has a strong impact on when waterfowl utilize a wide range of habitats, and mud flats are no different. As a waterfowl hunter, it is important to keep in mind what the weather pattern has been (Wet/Dry) during the summer leading up to opening day. In years when a dry pattern persists, water availability in areas such as moist soil marshes may be low, leaving all of the food unusable in these areas. In situations where dry conditions persist, mud flat habitats can be a critical piece of your game plan, as other areas may not be available.
Strategies for Waterfowl Hunting in Mud Flats
Mud flats can offer a waterfowl hunter and excellent opportunity to harvest ducks and geese during the early season. Waterfowl hunting in mud flats can also provide an opportunity to overcome an obstacle or two. Hunting mud flats can sometimes be very challenging for several reasons. First and foremost, these areas can sometimes be very difficult to get to, regardless of your mode of transportation. Large boats are often unable to traverse these areas, and the soft and muddy conditions can often make foot travel very difficult. These areas can often have water depths of less than two inches which can make decoy movement very limited. Often, the area where the ducks and geese prefer to be can be a significant distance from any form of cover. Luckily, there are ways to overcome these obstacles and still be very effective and putting a limit on the game carrier.
Accessing these areas can sometimes be the biggest challenge with hunting mud flats. There is one piece of equipment that can really help break through this barrier and make these areas easier to handle. While utilizing a deep hull duck boat that is more adapted to hunting a large lake is probably not the best solution, utilizing a layout boat is. Layout boats are an excellent tool to use when waterfowl hunting in mud flats. Layout boats give all duck and goose hunters the ability to carry plenty of gear while still being able to effectively traverse these shallow areas. Layout boats can float in only a couple of inches of water and often have no issues sliding through these areas. Utilizing a layout boat when hunting mud flats can also address the issue of cover, as these boats can disappear in a minimal amount of vegetation.
Mud flats offer a unique opportunity to utilize both full body and floating decoys in the same spread. Much like any other waterfowl set, ensuring that your spread looks as realistic as possible is critical to success when hunting mud flat habitats. Intermixing both floating and full body decoys and help achieve this realistic appearance. Decoy movement is often a critical part of waterfowl hunting success, and when waterfowl hunting in mud flats, it can be a high valued commodity. Luckily, Hard Core Brand decoys a designed to maximize even the slightest breeze, providing lifelike movement and realism. This aspect is very important to success when hunting mud flat habitats. Incorporating a jerk rig system is also an excellent way to overcome the lack of decoy movement in these areas as well.
One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to effectively waterfowl hunting in mud flats can be the lack of cover. This can present a fairly obvious challenge in terms of getting to where the duck and geese want to be, and make sure that your shots within optimal range. There are a couple of easy things that you can do to overcome this challenge. Using natural materials that are present in the area to construct and “natural” blind can often is an easy way to overcome this issue. Be observant to your situation, if you are hunting an area such as a low lake bed or river bed, then materials such as dead snags and tree debris can often be the ticket for a successful hunt. Likewise, if you are hunting an area such as most soil impoundment, then constructing a blind out of grass and other vegetation would be in order. In some cases, utilizing layout blinds such as the Man cave can be a great tool in your tool box to overcome this challenge as well.
Mud flats can be an excellent resource to the waterfowl hunter. While waterfowl hunting in mud flats does come with a set of challenges, the reward can be well worth the extra effort!