Hunting ahead of imminent freeze usually provides an excellent flight window. If overnight temperatures plummet, skies clear, and windspeed dwindles, plan on heading to bigger water the next day to avoid breaking too much ice in vain. If you scout river ice shelfs after sunup you will find birds. You may be happily surprised to find new mixed bag hunting opportunities amongst icy open water refuges close to big river channels.
In frigid cold windy conditions, it isn’t imperative to be set up before legal shooting time. Take time to safely prepared, eat breakfast, and enjoy other meaningful layers of the hunt with good company. A good rule of thumb is the colder it is the later birds fly. Excellent late season hunting can occur from mid-morning to late afternoon during flight day conditions. Hunters heading out too early risk returning before the mid-day flight of birds trading between food and refuge. The best ducks stay till the last dog is hung up.
Have patience breaking ice in the marsh. It is not a race. Avoid making a slushy. Exaggerate your routes around and beyond the X to make room for relocation. Waiting for ice to settle indicates the direction you should continue to push towards. Having someone push pole slowly from the bow while the driver slowly uses reverse works well.
Final Blind Brushing
Brush gets broken and blown away. Take time to add extra brush around and above a blinds’ shooter box to cast shadows and break up silhouettes. This will help your group work weary birds in January.
Care for Equipment & Company
- Keep guns and ammunition clean and dry. Dry lubricant works better than gun oil to keep you in the hunt during freezing conditions.
- Trailer boats, pull boat plugs, and lower the motor to keep it working.
- Wooden step stools in the shooter box is an excellent compliment to re-brushing and it allows hunters to stand on dry wood instead of ice.
- If you have to launch at a frozen ramp, parking a vehicle or laying a tarp down helps maintain traction. Sears’ $20 slate metal bars penetrate thick ice easily and are great leverage tools to break and push ice.
- Heaters, warmers, thermos’, and cookers will extend your hunt time.
- Keep retrievers comfortable. Neoprene vests, towels, dog beds, heaters and snacks can be as important as decoys. Young dogs can become extra excited in wintry conditions. Deli meats in a caller’s fist is a great way to keep your special buddy quiet and in the hunt.
Late season open water hunts are a great time to try throwing out an extra large group of floating geese decoys. Geese decoys have become incredibly realistic looking over the last decade. They provide excellent confidence for weary birds, a real curveball to hunting pressure. Large diver decoys can also have similar effect. If you hunt a marsh, try putting out full body mallards and geese or geese shells where the marsh or ice meets open water.