"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Waterfowl Scouting
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

Harvested cornfields and dabbling ducks go together like bacon and eggs, notwithstanding the fact that these birds most often are associated with water. 

The association of dabblers with water is well justified by the fact that this is where we most often look for (and find) such beautiful and delectable ducks as the mallard (bread-and-butter duck of Hoosier waterfowlers), black duck, widgeon, gadwall, shoveler, the two teal most often found here  (blue-winged, and green-winged), pintail and wood duck. They are grain and seedeaters, and these foods are most often found on dry land. 

Water for dabblers often is merely a meeting or resting place. When time to feed rolls around, the dabblers hie off to some nearby cornfield (picked soybean fields will fill the bill) for a smorgasbord of grain that is processed by gizzards after being stored in a crop that is part of the gullet. Diving ducks, on the other hand, sate their appetites with a variety of aquatic weeds, crustaceans, even small fish. Their attraction to water is well founded. 

Although most waterfowlers pin their hopes on wetland settings, the hunter who learns where the dabblers feed, and hunts such places, is well rewarded. And though cornfield hunting can be augmented by the use of decoys, finding the fields (even locations within fields) will go a long way toward a duck or goose dinner, with or without decoys. 

As in hunting for many other species of game birds and animals, there is no substitute for good scouting efforts before the hunt. But the hunting should be done as soon as possible after the scouting because feeding habits of ducks can change quickly as spilled grain is cleaned up by ducks and geese. 

Although it is good to watch from afar (good binoculars are important tools) as ducks and geese settle into grain fields, and to mark the spots, stone-cold scouting by walking the fields in search of telltale waterfowl signs will identify feeding hot spots. 

Finding the spot in a large cornfield where ducks and geese feed can be likened to finding the proverbial “needle in the haystack.” If one must launch a scouting effort cold turkey, it is well to remember that ducks and geese (like mourning doves) are partial to high spots in a field. This does not mean that these birds will not feed on low spots, but if there is a good supply of waste grain on the high point of a harvested field, this is the place to look. 

Both ducks and geese are messy feeders, leaving behind such sure-fire signs as droppings and feathers, both of which will indicate whether the prospective hunter will be finding ducks, geese, or both. Incidentally, the silky parachute-like fluffs that carry milkweed seed, can easily be confused with goose down. Goose droppings, by virtue of the enormity of the bird, usually are much larger than those of ducks. 

Once a hot spot for feeding birds is found, comes the most important phase of the game: being there when the birds are, and being well concealed. I have always thought it would be nice to find a hot feeding spot close to a brushy fencerow, but I have never found such a place. Approaching birds tend to shy away from brushy cover, fencerows and other good hiding places. 

For many years a 10-by-12, flimsy sheet of dark green plastic and some  body-size strips of cardboard served me well as camouflage in harvested  cornfields, especially if  the field  offered some vegetation that remained green. I would set up (make that lie down on my back) on the cardboard (to keep dry) and cover my body with the green plastic and some cornstalks (to make the setting more natural). 

Because ducks and geese seem to prefer landing and taking off into the wind, I try to take a position downwind from the feeding spot and shoot as the birds are “wing walking,” (like coming down a ladder) the last few yards of their flight. It is exciting to have birds on the ground before shooting, but both ducks and geese are wary critters and can flare just before they land.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

This mixture of Canada geese and a few mallards pitch into a harvested cornfield near White River’s West Fork. 
geesecorn.jpg (52015 bytes)

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

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