Timber Duck Hunting

There’s not much a hardcore waterfowler loves more than duck hunting in timber when the weather is right and the ducks show up in force.

Much of the timber hunting I’ve done has been in naturally flooded bottomland hardwoods, but on a few occasions I’ve been invited to managed timber blocks known for drawing hefty crowds of late-season mallards. On one of these hunts that took place on a frosty January morning, ducks were diving into our spread before shooting time. For about 15 minutes, four friends and I watched as the ducks swirled overhead, hovering just above the treetops. To this day I have yet to witness anything like it.

When the shooting started, it didn’t last long. We left with a limit of mallards an hour later, but for me, it wasn’t the hunt that was so special as much as it was witnessing the spectacle before the shots started ringing out. Countless videos we took in the low, morning light have never replicated the true grandeur of hundreds of mallards diving through the trees.

For those who have witnessed something similar, duck hunting in timber is something worth working for. You’ll brave public land, wake up at midnight to make it to the right spot, and search all year for that right piece of land that’ll draw in ducks. Timber hunting differs from hunting lakes or coastal areas, so here’s a few tips to increase your odds when the mallards show up.

Find a Hole

The key to timber duck hunting is finding where the ducks want to be. That usually means a section of flooded woods with acorn-bearing oak trees. Scout first to figure out where ducks are flying to and from. Flooded hardwoods can span miles, especially in a floodplain, so find a break in the canopy where the mallards can enter. The hole doesn’t have to be massive. Even a fallen tree or two can give enough open water to hunt.

Duck hunters can make their own holes on their property by cutting a few trees in an area that’s flooded. If you’re creating your own duck hole, try to keep in mind that they will likely be approaching with a north wind. You’ll want to establish the break in the canopy to funnel the ducks into your blind. If you’ll be heading to public land, more subtle holes in the canopy can be productive because most hunters will vie for the larger holes.

Keep Your Spread Simple

While big spreads may attract ducks on lakes and rivers, in the timber you’ll only need a dozen decoys. Be sure to use mallard decoys and opt to use more drakes than hens, so your spread is clearly visible through the trees. Arrange the decoys near the edges of the hole so that they’re slightly tucked into the woods. Motion is the key to getting the mallards to commit. Use a jerk cord on a few of the decoys and hit it when ducks soar overhead, which will cause ripples in and around your hole. Spinning wing decoys are an option, but not a necessity. If you opt to use one or two, tuck them into the woods, as well, so the overhead birds catch only short glimpses of the motion.

Keep Calling to a Minimum

Save the high-balls and over-the-top calling for another day. In the timber, call less and let the motion in your decoy spread do most of the work. Late-season mallards have heard every type of call imaginable, and if all you’re doing is calling, you’ll likely cause them to flare.

As the ducks make an initial pass over your hole, work the jerk cord. If the ducks are flying toward the spread, don’t call. As they’re flying away from you or starting turning back, a few simple quacks will work to catch their attention. Once the group seems committed to the water, you can coax them in with a few feeding chuckles, all while continuing to work the jerk cord.

If you’ve gotten to that point, the only thing you’ll have to worry about next is making a clean shot. Duck hunting in the timber is sure to make a young waterfowler addicted for life, and it’ll remind you why you work so hard to hunt. Those memories of mallards diving through the treetops will stick with you long after the season is over. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll haunt you until you have the chance to do it again.

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