Are you ready for the duck hunting season?

Being prepared is an important step to having a successful duck shooting season. What preparation work should you do in the lead-up to the opening weekend? A few steps now can help make your season the best.

Guns

Starting with your gun, make sure it is clean, this is especially true for gas-operated semi-automatics to make sure the piston and port holes are clean and clear. One year I didn’t do this, and it was a frantic effort to try and clear them with some manuka sticks to get it functioning correctly.

If you’ve picked up a new firearm or new ammunition, check the gun is fitting you correctly, so it is shooting in the direction you are looking.

There are a couple of ways to go about this. The first way is to have a friend available, make sure the firearm is unloaded, and do a couple of test mounts pointing at something on a wall about head height. Once you are comfortable mounting the gun in the same place hold your head and position. Your friend can then look down the rib and check the bead is flat to your pupil. Most firearms come with shims that allow the stock to be moved to fit if the gun isn’t right for you.

Another way is to get a piece of paper and draw a small circle on it, stand about five metres back, aim at the circle and look at the impact relative to the circle, you can adjust the gun to fit.

Almost as important as your gun fit is to test your chosen ammunition at your shooting distances and check the pattern is tight enough. Here we are getting a 2D view of the 3D shot string, while not perfect it does give a good indication. There are plenty of guides online searching for ‘shotgun patterning.’ I like to have a tight pattern to limit the chances of injuring a bird. I may miss more but I feel it’s a reasonable trade-off. Try the different chokes that come with your gun, but note modified, ½ Choke, 3 notches, is the tightest recommended choke with steel.

Getting your eye in

Once you have your gun sorted, heading out to one of the sponsored ‘duck shooter’ shoots near you offers a great chance to get your eye in. These are often sponsored by your local firearms store and offer you the chance to try some of their firearms if you want to upgrade. If you are having trouble with certain types of targets don’t be afraid to ask some of the experienced hand shooters around for any help or tips. Squad mates standing behind can often see where you are going wrong.

Another great way to improve your shooting is to chase non-gamebirds like pigeons and geese. Pigeons are an excellent bird to hunt, they decoy. Not much extra equipment is needed, homemade silhouettes and your mallard spinning wing decoy are often enough to get them to decoy if you have found where they are feeding. Pigeons also decoy into their dead so any birds lying on the ground, make sure to bring them into your spread. With these birds, the first shot is reasonably easy, but any others can be a real handful.

Decoys

Decoy maintenance in pre-season is important, have you ever got out to your spot and found all the cords in a tangle, and you had to spend a crazy amount of time trying to get them sorted in the dark with a headlamp? A bit of time before getting them tidied away can save a stressful morning. Slotted decoy bags work well to keep your decoys organised over mesh bags. Bike tyre tubes cut into rings and tied onto the sinker make easy rubber bands to keep the cords tidy. Clean decoys work better in the field. Using two pieces of wood with some bungee cord holding them together clamps onto the keel well, which is easier to hold with your foot. Then run a water blaster over the decoy removing any dirt. If any of your decoys rattle, find the holes and plug them up with some silicone if possible. A half-sunken decoy can make even the keenest duck flare from your spread.

For any motorised decoys you have, make sure to have fresh batteries and that rechargeable batteries are charged. Check the decoys are working, last season I found with my spinning wing decoy the on/off switch had failed and would not turn on. Because I checked it early , I found a replacement and fixed it.

Maimai and Pond

Getting into your pond and maimai at least a month before opening weekend to get this done is best as it gives a chance for the ducks to get used to any changes. For your maimai does the vegetation need to be replaced or can the new cover be added to the existing? Check there are no holes in the floor, and nothing is rotting. You don’t want to be out there opening morning and fall through the floor.

Feeding a pond can be a good way to increase birds on your pond. Depending on what fish and game region you are in this may not be possible, but for those that can there are a few different ways and feed to give ducks. In the past, we have had success with using maize out of a 40-gallon drum with a spring on-demand feeder. These feeders were set up in shallow water to stop rodents from being able to access the feed. On this pond, we topped the feeders up twice a week from 3-4.00pm. Doing it late afternoon meant ducks would be sitting on the pond all day and when chased off go out for a night feed and come back in the morning. If it is a night-shooting pond, feeding in the morning would also work. A popular method is using auto feeders you can set the time and how long they run for. We have tried these and monitored them with game cameras. We found that when they ran the ducks flared from the noise they made and left the pond. Other people have had success with them so a bit of trial and error may be needed. The other way to feed a pond is to hand feed by tipping bags of grain or feed into the shallow water on the edge of your pond.

If hunting out of a laydown or pop-up blind, mudding them or spraying some matte paint over them can help reduce the glare and make them less likely to flare the ducks.

Clothing

An overlooked piece of equipment is clothing. Do your waders have any leaks that need to be repaired? It isn’t much fun having a cold, wet crotch, or socks at 6.00am and needing to deal with that for the rest of the day. Is your waterproof gear still waterproof or do you need that repaired or replaced? Being dry and warm could be the difference between staying out and shooting some ducks or being forced to head home.

Blind Bag

What do you have in your blind bag that may need looking at? Duck callers do need some pre-season love. Are the reeds okay without any splitting and does the caller sound okay? There isn’t anything stuck in there? One year I had left mine hanging in the corner of the garage and when I came to use them, I found a spider had made a nest in them. It may have only taken 10 minutes to pull and clean them but that was time ducks were getting shot around me. Replace any batteries in your electronic callers if you use those. If you are not confident using duck callers, have them in your car and practice while stuck in traffic on your work commute. No one is around to complain about the noise.

Having a copy of the latest regulations booklet in your blind bag is helpful. This means you can double-check the regulations, with starting times and bag limits. Making surenothing has changed in your region from the previous season and staying within the law means when a Ranger comes to check , you know you are okay.

Your Best Hunting Partner Last on my list but not least is your dog and making sure they are prepared for the coming season. I have found a few simple things can help in the performance of my dog. Give your dog the best possible chance by making sure they are fit and ready to do the hard mahi during the season. This can just be more regular walks and runs but what I find works well for my dog, Ace, is time at the river. Swimming and ploughing through the water works his muscles and stamina. You can also tie this into taking a simple bumper and getting him to do some retrieves and get into that routine.

With my bumper training, I have tried a few different things to try and vary the work he is doing. Generally, I have duck wings taped to the bumper to give some scent and texture rather than a plain rubber bumper. A technique I like to use when on a walk in the park is to throw the bumper into a bunch of trees and continue our walk. On the way back past, stop and get him to hunt the area to find the bumper. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas and you find something new here to improve your duck hunting season and make it a success. Hot barrels and keep safe out there, keep the beers till after the guns are away. Gareth Faulkner , You can catch me online at parriehunter. co.nz or on Facebook and Instagram under Parriehunter. Over winter I will be on a river bank, in a swamp or sitting on a pond with a gun and my dog beside me.

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