two hunters in a blind looking over decoys
Statewide

11 tips for late season duck hunting

Adjust your strategy for changing conditions
January 10, 2023

Frigid temperatures, frozen water, wary birds – the last month of duck hunting season can be tough. Here are some tips for closing the season strong.

Brandon Reishus, ODFW migratory bird coordinator, knows a thing or two about duck hunting. When he heads to the water for a late season hunt, he’s not thinking about making major changes to his game. Instead, he’ll focus on fine-tuning his strategy to adapt the to the winter conditions.

Here’s his advice for late season duck hunting.

1. Practice patience. By late season, ducks are leery about where they land. Give flying birds time to work and come back to your spread after a few flybys. Resist the urge to shoot at passing ducks that are out of shotgun range, aka sky busting.

three hunters in water setting out decoys
Birds may still be in brighter mating plumage, so wash dirt and mud off decoys to brighten them up.

2. Spruce up your decoys. Some ducks may still be sporting brighter mating plumage, so scrub the dirt and mud off your decoys to brighten them up.

3. Don’t automatically downsize your decoy spread. Many hunters recommend using fewer decoys late in the season when ducks may be paired up or in smaller groups. However, many ducks are still gathered in larger flocks and your decoy spread should mimic this. If possible, you might even increase the size of your spread on larger waters.

4. Match the size of your spread to the size of the waterbody you’re hunting. This is good advice any time of the year. But when winter rains flood new areas, make sure the number of decoys is realistic for the size of the water.

5. Stay hidden. Concealment becomes even more important with wary, late season ducks. Brush up your blind with new vegetation, wear a face mask and KEEP STILL.

duck blind with new vegetation
Refresh the vegetation on your blind to stay hidden from wary ducks.

6. Read the birds when calling. It’s always good advice to keep a keen eye on how ducks respond to your calling and adjust accordingly, but it’s even more important late in the season when ducks have heard it all. If you’re not confident in your calling skills, or don’t know what “read the birds” means, it might be better to just stop calling or use only a whistle.

7. Switch to more subtle movement. If ducks aren’t finishing – coming into land – try backing off on the spinner decoy. Instead, consider switching to a jerk rig for movement.

8. Don’t bank on an early morning flight. If the weather has been really cold, ducks may stay put until the weather has warmed and melted some of the ice that formed overnight.

A TRUE STORY: Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, Jan. 3, 2015. After a week of very cold weather, the ice was nearly thick enough to walk on. However, the night before the hunt, both the winds and the temperature came up and some ice started to soften. The morning flight at dawn was disappointing, hunter success was low and discouraged hunters called it a day. Too bad for them, because the birds started flying about 9 a.m. and by noon both hunters had shot their limits of mallards. Moral of the story: Re-read tip #8.

9. Be ready to break ice. In freezing conditions, bring something to break up some ice and create open water for ducks to land. In thin ice, a garden rake is a good option. You can break up large sheets and use the wide rake to help push those sheets under the remaining ice.

10. Be prepared for cold weather. And not just for you. Make sure there’s a dry place for your dog – standing in even a few inches of freezing water can take a heavy toll. If you’re hunting with someone who’s not used to the cold, consider bringing a portable heater for your blind or boat. Late season duck hunting doesn’t have to be a survival sport. The longer everyone is comfortable, the longer your hunt can be.

11. Scout to find birds. Scouting isn’t just an early season activity. With variable winter weather conditions, hunters will need to follow the birds as they move to better locations. Scout newly flooded fields after heavy rain events. Revisit frozen ponds after a warm spell. They may have melted and drawn ducks back. In eastern Oregon, check out rivers that are fed by warm water springs. These kinds of rivers can hold ducks when everything else is frozen

You don’t have to be an expert hunter to get ducks in January. Instead, focus on patience, concealment and flexibility to help you bag your limit.

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