"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Fine Art--Getting Within Shooting Range of Ducks
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

The north wind doth blow . . .

Old Man Winter flexed his muscles last week and the snow and cold weather of the northern-tier counties slowed the duck hunting there without helping it mightily in central and southern parts of the state.

Still, for the army of jump-shooters, the cold snap of last week has created some good duck hunting on rivers and streams of central and southern portions of the state. It will be even better if low air temps continue to ice up standing waters and we get enough rain to bring streams and river to low flood stages before the South Zone season ends January 14.

Let's face it. The best duck hunting in Indiana comes for the hunter who plunks his posterior on the seat of a small boat and sits quietly behind a makeshift screen of weeds and chicken wire while a companion quietly steers the boat to likely duck haunts.

Once there . . . once the ducks see the hunters and start changing their addresses . . . everything comes naturally (and safely, I hope) for the hunters. The makin's of some duck dinners soon are in the boat.

One friend of mine allows that sitting in a duck blind on Monroe Reservoir's Stillwater Marsh, or any of numerous other favored places for ducks, is plenty exciting when the birds are ladder-walking down to the decoys.

Frankly, I do not look with jaundiced eye on such activities. But a floating jump shoot on a river or stream can offer the same excitement, not to mention the fact that the tree and cornfield-lined banks of rivers and streams also offer great opportunity for winter squirrel hunting

Then, of course, I see ducks leaving just as exciting as ducks coming in--perhaps even more so.

So how does a hunter go about rigging for a floating jump-shoot?

You start with the boat.

I have known successful hunters who used canoes, but this has never seemed safe to me, especially when rivers and streams are at flood stage and rolling. A "V-bottom" boat probably offers greater safety than a flat bottom, jon-type, but having used both, I prefer the latter. The important thing to remember lies in the fact that any overloaded boat is a dunking waiting to happen.

Rigging a screen of chicken wire (fencing) should be done on dry land after the hunter (hunters) have learned how the boat floats naturally with the weight it will carry, remembering that a boat rigged to require a minimum of paddle effort will make the hunt more successful. The screen should not be low enough to cover the forward end of the boat without being in the water.

A screen of wire covered sparsely with weeds that is in the water will make the boat more difficult to handle and will create extra work for the oarsman when movement by current must be augmented by elbow grease.

A floating jump-shoot is best with two hunters--one behind the screen ready to shoot at all times, the other handling the oars with shotgun ready, but pointed safely away from all parts of the boat and it occupants. Although the oarsman will get plenty of shots, he must be ultra safe. A third party to such a venture can turn the hunt into a crowd, a dangerous crowd, whether it is in a boat or a duck blind.

Central and southern Indiana streams and rivers are better for floating jump-shoots than are their northern cousins. Central and southern streams and rivers meander more. This creates better hunting conditions because the hunter will be able to get closer to the birds--often point-blank--before being detected. When hunters miss jumping ducks, the reason for the misses most often is lead, which most of the time is totally unnecessary. Shoot the bird, not the air.

I am not the best wing shooter in the world--or even Hamilton County--but many years of bird (quail) hunting taught me that inside 20 yards the place to aim at a duck (even a rising duck) is the head. The same rule holds true if the bird is going away on the level, even at an angle. Shoot the bird.

Pass shooting is another thing.

There is, of course, a fine art in getting within shooting range of ducks on rivers and streams. It may be next to impossible when rivers and streams are at normal levels.

But even at normal water levels (or slightly above, as they are now), ducks have a tendency to use driftwood and other obstructions for cover. Sneak such cover with extra caution. 

If streams and rivers are at flood stage, the water will have inundated weeds and brush high above normal water levels and ducks love the safety such cover offers. In times of flooding, keep your ears turned on and your eyes focused on adjacent harvested corn and soybean fields. They are smorgasbords for ducks.

Entrances of smaller streams and ditches, oxbows, and other adjacent open water are natural resting places for ducks. In some cases it may be necessary to beach the boat and hunt these placed by stealth on foot. This, incidentally, will rejuvenate a cold body on a raw winter day, but bagging and getting squirrels will achieve the same goal.

Wearing apparel should be in layers so it can be added or taken off as needs arise. Knee or hip boots are a must for getting in and out of the boat and wearable life preservers are a must. Waterfowl hunters are exempt from the blaze orange requirement, but squirrel hunters (from November 8 through January 31) must meet this requirement. It also is unlawful to have lead shot in possession while hunting waterfowl.

So what are the best streams and river or a floating jump-shoot?

The west fork of White River between Martinsville and its confluence with the east fork of White River (at the southeast corner of  Knox County) is head and shoulders above all other in Indiana. The east fork of the White between Seymour and its confluence with the west fork is good, but there is not as much of it. After that waterfowlers must live by the unwritten law that ducks (like bass and other wild critters) are where you find them.

Oh, Yes! Another thing I should emphasize is that every boat should have a small bag--six to 10--dabbler decoys. If you find a lot of ducks at a good spot, this is a great place to put out the blocks and have lunch.

Big concentrations of ducks at a given spot is a clear-cut indication that they like it there. Chances are they--or some of their brethren--will be there soon . . . maybe before your peanut butter sandwich is gone.

(Click on number to view photo.)
  • #1 -- If cold weather ices up standing waters, ducks move to open water on White River. These are mallards and blacks.
  • #2 -- Bayou Bill takes his turn behind the screen on White River's west fork. Note screen made of chicken wire and weeds.
  • #3 -- If a squeaky orelock tells the duck you are coming, a wet piece of burlap will silence it. In the absence of burlap, your shirt tail will work.
  • #4 -- Driftwood offers good daytime resting spots for mallards on White River's west fork.


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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