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