The alarm breaks the silence of 2 a.m. My wife and I wake up to clothes laid out just hours before when we went to bed. We get dressed to endure the wet, windy weather of the Northwest, load the guns and dog in the truck, and grab a quick breakfast. We head out the door just before 3 a.m. to play in the mud with the hope of bringing home a few ducks for the freezer.
It’s not something the average Oregonian would likely understand until they’ve done it, however, it’s what duck hunters have been waiting all year for! With flooded farm fields to vast amounts of open water, Oregon duck-hunting opportunities are in full supply.
Duck hunting is as much of a social activity as it is hunting. While my passion is big-game hunting, duck hunting offers a change of pace from the mentally and physically enduring silent stalking game of cat and mouse in the forest. In the duck blind, you’re sharing stories, telling jokes, making fun of each other and otherwise blissfully ignorant to your surroundings … until you see ducks in the sky that is. Then it’s game on!
If you’re looking to try duck hunting for the first time or looking to get back into it, here are some key tips to help you take advantage of this opportunity.
Shoot trap or skeet
Shooting a moving target is no easy task. Before venturing out in search of birds, the best thing you can do is prepare yourself for the challenge ahead. Visit one of the many gun clubs and practice shooting trap or skeet with different ammunition and choke combinations.
Many shotguns come with a few basic chokes from the manufacturer. I’d recommend starting with the “modified” choke.
Public land opportunities
The best place to start is one of the established and publicly managed access areas such as Sauvie Island, Fern Ridge and E.E. Wilson. These locations provide pre-built duck blinds, helpful staff and an opportunity to learn without much risk or hunting knowledge.
You can learn more about hunting these locations in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s game bird hunting areas.
If you want to avoid the crowds at one of the managed public-access areas, another option is one of the many rivers. The downside here is that many locations will require a boat or trained retriever.
Start by scouting and look for areas with a large concentration of birds the day before you plan to hunt. It might sound obvious, but the key to hunting ducks is being where ducks want to be.
You’ll often find them concentrated in shallow, isolated, slow-moving water in rivers near food sources, such as flooded agriculture fields.
Decoys and blinds
When setting out your decoys or selecting your blind location, pay attention to the wind direction. Ducks typically want to land flying into the wind. Ignoring the wind direction can cause birds to flare when making their approach and look for a different landing area.
With that in mind, place the decoys on the water with an open area in your shooting lane. Birds will often land in the larger open areas of decoy spreads when given the opportunity. Leaving that open area in your shooting lane provides you the best opportunity to make quick and easy shots.
Duck hunting is an activity that is not terribly difficult to become a seasoned veteran at, and Oregon is a great place for it. The Pacific Flyway offers a generous limit of seven ducks per day and a season that runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 29. Be sure to review the ODFW Game Bird Regulations before heading out.