Waterfowl Bowhunting Basics

December 15th, 2008 / Posted by edersbow.com
Waterfowl Bowhunting Basics

By Judd Cooney
“Kill a decoying goose with a sharp stick! This I’ve got to see!” chortled my host in the pre-dawn darkness as we unloaded our gear at the edge of the narrow pit blind in the middle of a goose trodden winter wheat field. Several hundred greater Canada geese had been using this field totally undisturbed for the past week. The evening before we had watched the flock leave the field at dark, which meant they would be returning at first light to feed again. The plan was to place just a few decoys in front of the previously dug pit blind to pull the geese within bow range.

My host at Big Bend Ranch, just south of the capitol city of Pierre South Dakota had agreed to let me bowhunt geese on the ranch with the understanding that I could try my luck on the smaller groups of early arrivals, but once the large flocks started arriving from the nearby Missouri River, I was going to have to switch to a camera and avoid spooking the geese away from their feeding area on the ranch. I don’t think the rancher was much worried about my making an impact in the population with my bow and arrow.

It didn’t take long to realize, shooting a bow from the narrow confines of the pit blind dug specifically for shotgun hunting, was going to be a problem. The only way I could manage was to crouch just below ground level where the pit sloped down. I’d have to wait until the geese were set to land and then raise up, draw and shoot. A piece of cake!

It was barely light enough to see and only a few minutes past legal shooting time when four gigantic Canada’s materialized out of grayness and set their wings over the opening in the decoy spread 15 yards from where I crouched in frozen anticipation. When the huge birds stuck out their webbed feet and started back-flapping to slow their downward momentum I lunged up, jerked my 85# Hoyt compound to full draw, concentrated on where I wanted the arrow to go and released. The Thunderhead tipped XX75 zipped right over a thoroughly startled goose that actually crashed into the ground before frantically launching itself back into the air. “Man, you damn near got him!” hissed my host from his end of the pit blind. “Get ready! Here comes three more!”

A bowhunter comes to full draw on a duck in the water.  Jump shooting ducks can be action-packed and lots of fun.

A bowhunter comes to full draw on a duck in the water. Jump shooting ducks can be action-packed and lots of fun.

The three gigantic honkers set their wings 100 yards out and lost elevation rapidly as they headed for the same landing zone as the previous group. When the geese were 10 feet in the air, necks extended and feet reaching for the ground when I again drew my bow and raised up for the shot. This time I gave the plummeting goose in the center a bit more downward lead and turned loose. The arrow slashed through the center of the goose with a solid sounding thwaack and the 13# bird slammed into the ground, bounced once and never twitched again. “Yahoo!” hollered my host. “I’ve never seen a goose killed any quicker than that!” Never would have believed it was possible!” Needless to say I was a bit pleased myself .

Bowhunting Waterfowl Methods

Ducks and geese can be successfully bowhunted by three methods, jump shooting, pass shooting and decoying. Decoying and pass shooting work best for bowhunting geese while decoying and jump shooting are the most productive methods for the smaller, faster flying, harder-to-hit, ducks.

Jump shooting ducks is hard to beat for an exciting and challenging bowhunting experience that can be employed throughout the country. When your big game bowhunt coincides with the waterfowl season, midday jumpshooting can add a whole new dimension to your bowhunt.
 Key Jump-Shooting Tactics
 The real key to successful jump shooting is  locating your quarry before it sees you.  Binoculars and a spotting scope can aid  dramatically in this endeavor. Look for the ducks  themselves or for rippling water that indicates  feeding or loafing ducks. Ducks have excellent  eyesight so plan your stalk carefully to keep  yourself completely out of sight until the last  possible moment. Complete camo that matches your  background cover can often make the difference in  the success or failure of your stalk.

 I can remember one late season whitetail bowhunt in the south where the waterfowl season was still open during my deer hunt. While bowhunting the second day I discovered the steep-banked creeks flowing through the hardwood bottoms were filled with wood ducks. It didn’t take me long to add a bird hunting license to my deer license.  Since I already had the necessary waterfowl stamp I was in business.

I couldn’t wait for the morning hunt to end so I could sneak along the creeks bowhunting the gorgeous woodies. I’d ease along a creek, glassing ahead for a telltale ripple or sight of a duck. Once I located my quarry, I’d circle out 30 yards or so from the creek, staying out of sight of the unsuspecting birds.

When I got directly opposite where I figured the ducks were located, I’d ease quietly toward the edge of the bank and come to full draw before I got within sight of the creek or ducks. If there was a tree or other cover along the edge of the bank I’d try to make use of it to cover my approach and help break up my outline.

 On a number of occasions I’d catch the ducks completely by surprise and get an arrow off before they lept into the air.  Most of the time, however, my shot was at a rapidly rising duck. I managed to limit out on ducks several days in a row while everybody else was back in camp taking a midday nap.

I’ve spent many a pleasant fall day in Colorado jump shooting ducks off the high mountain beaver dams. During the late duck season in the Colorado mountains the many warm water springs and irrigation ditches have also provided some fantastic jump shooting with a bow and arrow for the mallards drawn to the lush sedges and tepid water.
Decoying Techniques
Decoying works well for bowhunting both ducks and geese. However the same blind or pit setup that works for shotgunning won’t necessarily work for bowhunting. A bowhunter needs a blind with room enough to draw, swing and shoot without interference. I prefer a blind that’s open on the front with a good dense background that will let the immobile, camouflaged bowhunter blend in completely until time to draw and shoot.

Concentration is a real key to successfully arrowing incoming ducks or geese dropping into a decoy spread . It’s tough to concentrate on a single bird and then to further concentrate on picking a spot to place your arrow. I’m glad that I shoot instinctively as a sight shooter would definitely have a lot tougher time following the fast action. The decoy spread should be placed close to the blind with the primary landing area for ducks and geese situated at 10 – 20 yards directly in front of the shooter’s position. In many areas a bowhunter can make use of a boat, hip boots or waders and a few strategically placed decoys for some fantastic duck or goose bowhunting. Small creeks, sloughs or swamps are ideal places to set out several lightweight decoys and make use of the available cover for concealment much as you would for ambushing a whitetail buck. Know the rudiments of using a duck call can be a definite advantage but silence in conjunction with your decoy spread is more likely to attract ducks than bad calling, so be cautious.

Pass Shooting

Bow-bagged waterfowl don't come easy but the sport sure is fun.

Bow-bagged waterfowl don

I have taken several snow geese and a couple Canada geese by pass shooting and must admit that this type of hunting offers plenty of shooting and action.  There is lots of anticipation as your arrow flies upward toward a flying goose and a good share of frustration as the geese seemingly side-slip your rising shafts with ease. One day, while pass shooting at geese coming off the Missouri River south of Pierre, South Dakota, another bowhunter and I had 50 or more arrows sticking out of the ground, like a bunch of brightly colored flowers. The arrows were in a group about 20 yards around, situated at the bottom a draw a hundred or so yards below our pit blind along the top of a bare ridge overlooking the river. We shot all of our arrows several times that day and after all the practice shots finally zeroed in on two snow geese. Can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed a day’s waterfowling any more.
Waterfowl Equipment
Forget flu-flu arrows for waterfowl bowhunting. Ducks and geese are fast flyers and you need all the arrow speed you can get muster to get your arrow in the same place as the target – while it’s still there. I have taken ducks and geese with both recurve and compound bows shooting instinctively and would recommend using the type of bow you can shoot best instinctively or with the least amount of sighting equipment.

Waterfowl are tough birds with dense feathers and muscled bodies that can take a lot of abuse.  My advice is to use the best flying and sharpest broadhead you can find. Blunts, bludgeons, and snaros might work for jump shooting smaller duck species such as teal or wood ducks but I still prefer the deadly efficiency of a razor-sharp broadhead on anything bigger.

If you haven’t tried waterfowl bowhunting you are missing out on an extremely challenging and exciting part of bowhunting where competition is non-existent, the seasons are long and the bag limit liberal. Who could ask for more?

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