Ducks on Ladd Marsh

13 (lucky!) early season duck hunting tips

Change up your tactics to take more early season birds.

Early season duck hunting doesn’t always match the marketing images:  hunters braving cold, snowy conditions, and flocks of birds arriving from the north.

Instead, the Oregon duck seasons often open on beautiful fall days with local birds and bluebird weather. Conditions that can extend for several weeks into the season. These different conditions call for different tactics.

Kasey Scrivens, assistant manager at ODFW’s Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, shares these tips for early season duck hunts.


Scout. Find out what areas the ducks are using – for feeding, for roosting. Also study their flight patterns as they move between the two at dawn and dusk.

If you also listen while you’re watching, you might hear some tips for sharpening your calling skills.


Look for local ducks in natural wetlands. In early October, ducks that are still in eclipse or hatched late are looking for insects to provide the protein they need to grow feathers. They’ll find far more insects in natural wetlands than in crop fields.


As the first migrants arrive, target bigger water. Once birds do start arriving from the north, they find the larger waterbodies first. Some hunters prefer to hunt from the middle of water – a technique that calls for a well-camouflaged boat.


Use a smaller spread. This time of year, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Two dozen decoys is plenty and some hunters use as few as six.


Match drab decoys to drab ducks. Drakes are often in eclipse plumage when the season starts and are still quite drab. Use more hen decoys, or old beat up ones with muted colors to match these birds.


Don’t be afraid to try calling. Early in season ducks aren’t yet call shy, and can be more responsive to calling

If you’re going to call, know when to stop. Once the birds are locked in and coming into your spread, lay off the call.


Know your brown ducks. When birds are in eclipse plumage identification can be hard. Know how to tell wigeons from mallards, and drakes from hens.  You’ll need to be able to tell them apart to avoid exceeding some bag limits.


Don’t hold out for mallards. It’s easier to shoot a limit of ducks in the early season if you’re willing to consider a mixed bag. Yes, mallards are large and tasty but many other species are fine table fare as well.


Wear the correct camo. Early in the season marshes can still be vibrant green, so be sure your camo reflects this, and not the browns and tans found later in the season.


Watch the weather up north. Migrating ducks will start to head south as more northern waterbodies freeze up. The last couple of years, areas in northern Washington have been popular staging areas for ducks – until waters freeze and ducks move into Oregon.


Work out with your dog. It can be warm early in the season, you need to be in shape and so does your dog. Dogs, especially, can overheat in the warm weather so keep an eye on Rover and be ready to call it quits when your dog is done.


Check your gear. If you’re like many hunters, you stowed your gear away at the end of last season without much thought. Wouldn’t take but a couple hours to:

  • Check your decoys, cords and weights. Maybe plug the pellet holes your hunting partner put in them last year. Something you would never do.
  • Set up your decoy/game cart and make sure all the pins, straps and other pieces are there.
  • Make sure your boat and motor are in order, your trailer has been serviced and your safety equipment is on board.


Practice – your shooting and your duck calling.

  • If you haven’t shot for a while, break a few clays to freshen you skills.
  • If you’re hesitant about your calling, practice a bit until it comes back to you.
  • Pattern your gun, especially if you’ll be trying a new choke or ammo this year.