Hunting Late-Season Birds
By Justin Kornkven
The end of October and first part of November used to be late season for us waterfowlers here in North Dakota. The North Dakota winters used to come a lot earlier back in the 1920’s – 1950’s. Snowfall would come in mid-September, granted it wouldn’t stay around long, but the cold temps weren’t far behind, which usually meant more snow. That’s not the case so much anymore. What we call late season now up in North Dakota is the end of November until the season closes in December. The weather patterns have changed along with bird migration patterns.
Veteran waterfowlers know it takes open water and bare fields to keep birds around. River systems, especially with dams, in North Dakota are typically where late season birds roost. Warm water running through dams and back into reservoirs keeps the water from freezing up solid. When I talk about late season birds, I mean the big waves of mallards (Canada ducks) and giant Canada geese that tend to stay in big concentrated flocks. These two types of birds don’t make it very far south and, at most, fly down to the southern South Dakota border. Each time it warms up and thaws a little bit, them birds move back north just behind the retreating snow line. When hunting these birds, scouting is key just like it is early in the season.
The birds tend to get off the roost in larger flocks to go feed. If you pay attention to the first flocks of birds, whether its big honkers or big ducks, they will layout in the field for an hour or so then boom, back to water. If the water freezes up, birds have to move to find open water which is why it’s important for a number of birds to stay on the water at all times.
When pursuing these birds, follow them from the roost to the fields they feed in, which could be two miles from the roost or up to 20 miles or more. The big waves of mallards will tend to feed more during mid-day or just in the afternoon depending on weather. Giant Canada geese will usually loaf around on the roost until mid-morning, soaking up the sunshine until they decide to go feed. The birds will tend to feed in beans and corn this late in the season because of the nutritional value they get from the two types of crops that is used to increase their fat content.
If you can’t obtain permission on the ‘X’, look for a couple of fields in the flight path of the field they are feeding in. Also, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and use less or more decoys, depending on the situation. Put your blinds tight and hunt the edges of fields along a fence line or drainage ditch to change things up a bit. Keep in mind, these birds have seen a lot of decoy spreads throughout the entire season so it wouldn’t hurt to put out a couple dozen sleeper shell decoys to make it simulate that they are relaxed and comfortable in that spot.
Good luck and happy hunting!