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Outdoor Life: Duck season arrives

The early portion of duck hunting season opens this weekend and the possibilities for Southeast Georgia are abundant.  You can float the rivers, set up in any of the numerous swamps, beaver ponds and farm ponds, or head out to a reservoir to get your limit.  Duck hunting has made a complete turnaround since the early 1990’s with the onset of Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups who began an earnest emphasis on preserving wetlands.  Together with state and federal agencies millions of acres of wetlands around the country have been restored and are protected to a greater degree than ever before.  Many duck species are now at or above historic levels and that’s good news for the hunter.
    Here are a few things to help the novice get started. 
    If you are a veteran duck hunter encourage others to join in and help them get going.  Once you have been on a successful outing it’s an activity that will get into your blood and will have you planning your next trip.
    Excellent camouflage is a must.  Whether in a blind or boat you have to stay completely hidden and motionless until you get the ducks in shooting range.  The birds are sharp eyed and cautious, especially as the season wears on and they have been shot at. 
    In choosing a gun, any general purpose shotgun that is twenty gauge or larger is practical.  For most hunts using the improved cylinder choke is best but some situations may call for a modified choke.  Simply put an improved cylinder is better for close in shooting because the shot pattern spreads more quickly.  A modified chokes holds the shot pattern closer together and is better for medium range gunning. 
    As far as shot and shells are concerned there are a few important points to consider and rules to follow.  First and foremost you may not use lead shot when hunting for waterfowl.  Without going into that subject extensively suffice to say that lead shot poisons waterfowl and birds of prey including eagles and has therefore been banned.  The least expensive alternative is steel shot.  Steel shot is not as heavy as lead and therefore has a shorter effective range but years of testing have demonstrated that steel is efficient at reasonable ranges.  Other choices include bismuth / tin, tungsten / iron, and tungsten polymer, all of which are better from a ballistic standpoint than steel but a good bit more expensive. 
    Your choice of shot size depends mainly upon the range you will be shooting and the type and size of ducks you are after.  The experts recommend using a shot size two sizes larger than you would normally use if shooting lead.  Translated that means that if you were hunting mallards prior to the ban on lead, number 4 shot
would be the choice but with steel or one of the other choices available you need to move to number 2 to obtain a comparable result.  Many hunters use number 3 steel shot as a good all purpose load but if the shooting range is relatively close number 5 or 6 shot can do the trick.
    Hunting strategies vary with the type of ducks you are after.  If you are hunting for wood ducks in a swamp or beaver pond it is entirely different than if you are on a big reservoir trying to call ducks in.  It would be difficult to outline all the strategies in this space but if you would like information on that topic send me an e-mail and I’ll get you some help.
    If you have two or three people hunting from a blind, gunning strategy is always important for safety and efficiency.  The rule of thumb is to let the birds get almost to the water so that all the hunters get to shoot and so that you won’t all be shooting at the same bird.  From that point each hunter takes birds that insure a safe shooting angle.  Of course every set of ducks comes in differently so you have to adjust accordingly but it’s always safety first.
    Here’s a hint about using decoys.  Ducks typically won’t land in the middle of an area already occupied by other ducks so leave an opening in the spread of your decoys in close proximity to your blind.  The veteran hunters say that putting the decoys out in the shape of a “C” or “V” is a good way to think about this.
    Calling ducks is an art that requires practice.  There are plenty of instructional tapes out there to help you with this part of the craft.  If you are a novice silence and a well displayed decoy set is probably the best tactic because the more you call the more you risk doing something that will spook your prey.

A few duck season regulations
1)    The early season is already over and it ran from November 20-28. The season re-opens December 11 and runs until January 30.
2)    The bag limit is as follows: Six ducks per day per hunter (12 in possession) of which not more than three wood ducks; four mallards of which two may be hens; two scaup; two redheads; two pintail; one black duck or mottled duck; one fulvous whistling duck; one canvasback. The season is closed for harlequin ducks.
3)    Legal hunting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset each day.
(Refer to a sunrise/sunset table for the state of Georgia)
4)    Hunters16 years or older must possess state and federal waterfowl stamps and a state hunting license.  A Migratory Bird Hunting stamp is required for all persons hunting waterfowl. In addition, all state and federal waterfowl regulations apply.
5)    Firearms must be unloaded and cased when transported in a boat or through an open recreation area or open boat ramp.
6)    There are separate rules that apply to certain reservoirs and Georgia Power property so check those before hunting.