"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres
December 2007

And then came December!

Yes, there are 11 other months in the year. And each month offers its own brand of outdoor pleasures. But with hunting seasons ending and fishing season beginning, December is a hard month to beat.

December offers many forms of outdoor recreation--including much late hunting--but one of the most exciting and productive activities is waterfowling. There are several ways to hunt waterfowl, but for me (though it is roundly ignored by the rank-and-file of the hunting fraternity) jump shooting the larger rivers by boat is the way to go.

Hunting squirrels is part of it. Nests in trees on the banks will be your guide to the numbers of squirrels in an area. But the presence of picked cornfields also is a criterion.

Ordinarily, we have a short duck season (along with squirrel hunting in October) with the emphasis on wood ducks). The squirrel season remains open through January, therein offering combination hunts for mallards, blacks and others of the big duck clan. Squirrels will be found often in trees, but they also spend a lot of time on the ground, especially in winter.

The squirrel season runs statewide through January this year, but the waterfowl hunting bows out a few weeks earlier. Ducks, geese and squirrels are fair game in December. 

Although this column will deal primarily with waterfowling, the month offers many forms of hunting--many outdoor pleasures. Even the waterfowling is done in many ways.

Rivers, like the two forks of White River, the Wabash, and those that are slightly smaller, are the best for waterfowling by floating, but when rivers and streams go out of their banks into the fields excellent hunting may be found anywhere, even on smaller streams. Under flood conditions it is always treacherous, and the hunter must find a way to get back to the starting location where his/her car is parked. Two people and two vehicles is one solution to the transportation problem.
I didn’t get his name, but one hunter used to carry a bicycle on his solo floats on the southern rivers.

Dangerous, as it is, there are many horse sense rules of floating to follow, starting with never allowing the boat to float crosswise to swift currents. If a crosswise boat hits a solid underwater obstruction, in fast water the force of the current against the broad side of a small boat can flip it. Small boats are best for floating jump shoots. As noted above, safety on a jump shoot is spelled “common sense.”

It is permissible to have an outboard motor on the transom of a boat while shooting if the boat is not moving under its power. A motor, however, may legally be used for picking up downed birds.
So how does a hunter go about rigging a boat 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) screen should be done on dry land after the hunter (hunters) have learned how the boat floats naturally with the weight it will float, remembering that a boat rigged to require a minimum of paddle effort will make the hunt more successful. Mostly, you are just drifting. The screen should be low enough to cover the forward end of the boat without being in the water. 

By taking turns sitting in the end of the boat behind the screen covered with weeds, one hunter can always be ready to fire while the other sits on the back seat to handle the oars.
A screen of wire covered sparsely with weeds that is in the water may make the boat more difficult to handle and create extra work for the oarsman when movement by current must be augmented with elbow grease. 

Shotguns should be loaded and ready, but pointed safely away from all parts of the boat and its 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. 

The boat should be guided as close as possible to the inner bank of bends in the river. This will keep the boat hidden longer and, thus, get the hunters closer to ducks before they jump. Ordinarily ducks like inside banks better than the outside bends of rivers. On straight stretches, a command of both banks seems best if both banks are equal. 
I am not the best wing shooter in the world--even Hamilton County--but many years of bird (quail) hunting has 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 an angle. Shoot the bird. 
Pass shooting is another thing. Dan Gapen, the hunter/angler and fishing tackle producer from Minnesota, is an excellent pass shooter. He says to swing a scattergun on the arc of a bird from behind it and squeeze off the shot when he gun barrel blots out the bird. 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), 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. Ducks love the security of brush and weeds. 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 places by stealth first on foot, then set up blocks for this kind of hunting 
This, incidentally, will rejuvenate a cold body on a raw winter day, but bagging and getting squirrels will achieve the same goal.

For example, one day a few years back, John Gallman and I were having an “editorial conference” on White River’s west fork. We just happened to have smoke poles in our boat. There were plenty of ducks, but a fierce winter wind drove us to the bank for a warming session when we saw a squirrel go up a large cottonwood tree at the edge of the adjacent field.

With visions of a large pot of squirrel dumplings, we deboated with shotguns and surrounded the tree. When the squirrel flipped to my side of a big limb, the three-inch load of 4s brought it down. When it hit the ground it jumped a rabbit sitting in weeds under the tree.

I was so flabbergasted at this turn of events that the rabbit escaped with nothing worse that a three-inch boom in its ears.
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 should be worn, not merely stacked under a seat. 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. 
What are the best streams and rivers for 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 others 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. 
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 are a clearcut indication that they like the surroundings. Chances are they--or some of their brethren--will be there soon . . . maybe before your peanut butter sandwich is gone.

Floating jump shoots are not the only way to hunt ducks, especially when streams and rivers of all sizes are out of their banks--especially when they overflow into harvested (or unharvested) corn and soybean fields. This can be really fast gunning and your feet can be in a mucky terra firma. Ducks gravitate to fields littered by shelled corn or beans. Modern combines are wildlife’s best friends. Especially good are swales or dry bayous in the fields where floodwater collects. A swale or bayou near a brushy fencerow is ideal. It is easy to hide in a brushy fencerow.

Once while viewing just such a place, I saw a lot of action from a back road half a mile away with binoculars. I was there, after wading a small stream, in half an hour. I didn’t even need the bag of six decoys I carried to the spot. I did manage to get in over my hip boots midst a snow shower, but I dried out at lunchtime at a country grocery store and went back (after drying out) for another shot at the “snake that bit me.”

This is duck hunting in December. 

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

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John Gallman and I slip quietly along the bank of White River at flood stage.

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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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