Chad says the migration was a little truer this year, pointing to earlier storms in Canada and northern regions that pushed a lot of birds. In fact, a lot more migrating birds than North Dakota and South Dakota have seen in the last 4 to 5 years that early in October. In addition, storms across the Midwest delayed harvests this fall and made it more difficult for farmers to get their crops out of the fields. As a result, Chad says ducks and geese that filtered into those areas were welcomed by standing crops that they really couldn’t access for dry feeding. When you combine that factor with freezing water temperatures and waterholes that iced over earlier than the previous season, it made it tough for a lot of ducks and geese to stay in those areas where they would usually stay through mid-November. With all those factors combined, Chad says that a lot of birds arrived early on the Platte River system in Nebraska, down into Kansas and even Oklahoma. As for Southern hunters, Arkansas had a lot of ducks early but when the water levels started to fall out many of those ducks went back to Kansas and southeast Missouri. The early storms that sent large concentrations of ducks down the Mississippi and Central flyways made for fantastic duck hunting and a lot of hunters capitalized on that action. Chad says that kind of early activity gives hunters a chance to get out and wet their waterfowl appetite early instead of having to wait until December or January to get their birds when cold temperatures and storms really set in deeply up North. Fast forwarding to today, Chad says that action seems to be evening out now and you are even seeing some birds move back north a bit. He notes that there are a lot of birds along the Missouri river system in North Dakota, and still a lot of fowl to be chased in South Dakota as well. While, in many cases, the action in the Dakotas would be over at this point, warmer temperatures that came back through the region brought birds back to the area. Overall, Chad notes that the activity was different this year than we are accustom to and the conditions presented the opportunity to hunt southern regions earlier than hunters are used to. He also anticipates the action to even out saying that’s probably what is happening right now.
When bitter cold temperatures arrive on the scene birds react according to the conditions. Chad says that the ducks are going to do everything it takes to reserve their body heat and energy. That means they’ll stay on roost with their heads tucked in, probably sleeping on a shore line or levy, sandbar or even on the ice. They’ll have enough birds in the water to keep it open, and they also bank on a good wind to help with their efforts. When it comes to feeding, Chad says they let the sun come up and warm up the surroundings before going to feed, many times waiting until mid-day and then feeding as much as possible. Many hunters will assume that because it is cold that the ducks will feed 3 to 4 times per day, however, Chad says it’s more likely they will eat a lot, just one time a day, feeding until the very end of shooting hours. After that marathon feed session, they’ll then go back and sleep it off and keep the water open, sleep through the morning and keep their body temperature and energy levels up. Chad says you need to learn to think like a duck and decipher how the conditions will affect their behavior in order to maximize your success.
Chad will also talk duck and goose hunting over sleeper shells on snow or ice in the late season. When temperatures dip, especially later in the season, close to Christmas and into January and February, Chad says hunters can experience the reverse migration. In this situation, the temperatures often get so cold that the ducks and geese stay on the roost longer to reserve their energy. The number one way to do that, Chad says, is that they tuck their head back under their wing staying completely still and just sleeping. A few birds will keep their heads up looking for predators or anything else that will disturb the flock. If you watch ducks or geese land in a field, mainly geese Chad says, the first thing they do is pick a spot to lay down and tuck their head and sleep. This action is accomplishing more than one thing. While they are resting, they are actually using the heat from their body and belly to melt the snow, frost or ice off the food beneath them. After some time has passed they will pick their heads up and start pecking the ground around their bodies where the snow has melted. As their collective body heat melts a larger area, they then stand up and walk around feeding in the melted spots where they have access to the food source.
The further you get into the season, the more likely you are to encounter hunter wary birds. They’ve seen it all and they’ve heard about everything too. Communication and your ability to speak to the birds is important and a skill that takes time to build, but it all starts with a good call. Chad will talk about a new game call company he is proud to be a part of called Jargon Game Calls. Jargon duck calls are quality single reed calls. Chad says they understand the tradition of duck calling, know what goes into mastering the art of building, tuning and operating a duck call proficiently and have designed them with those things in mind. Explaining that duck hunting is much more than a sport or hobby, it’s a lifestyle that is special, Chad says that these calls are special too. Jargon calls are meant to contribute to memories in the field, smiles at duck camp and the passion that duck hunters feel. The word “Jargon” is defined as a specialized vocabulary used by people of a particular profession or group and duck hunters, and hunters as a whole, certainly have their own “jargon”. Building on that theme, Chad says their brand is centered around not only quality calls but also the passion of the hunt, the love of it, the humility hunters have and how they aren’t entitled to be an American hunter, but rather blessed with the opportunity.
Finally, Chad will round out our conversation with some goose talk. Out of any wild animal, Chad says he can’t think of one with a more complex vocabulary than that of geese. They have so many different feeding and mating sounds, vocalizations to get the attention of other geese, alert sounds and more. Chad notes that there are some staple sounds like the moans, purrs, clucks, honks, spit notes, the train and more – all of which have been mastered by short reed goose callers on stage. When listening to these callers, many people are surprised by some of the sounds, those that they have never heard geese make before. However, Chad says that geese talk through their mouth, beak and nostrils and make an incredible range of different vocalizations. Goose hunters have to pay attention and really key in on those sounds and then try to repeat them on a call. It takes a lot of practice, Chad says, but a short reed goose call can give you access to a lot of that vocabulary. In order to be fluent though, it’s a matter of putting in the hours, days, weeks, months and even years of practice to really master the call!
Tune in as Chad Belding, host of “The Fowl Life” on Outdoor Channel joins us with tons of tips and information that will make you a better waterfowl hunter! Be sure to watch “The Fowl Life”, Fridays at 7:00 pm ET for not only tons of waterfowl action, but also plenty of tips along the way to help you in your own pursuits. If you don’t have Outdoor Channel then be sure to download the MyOutdoorTV app for access to an extensive library of “The Fowl Life” seasons and episodes!
Go get ‘em