Hard Core Decoys | How to waterfowl hunt THE RIVER

The River by Chris McCleland For some, the challenge of hunting many of our nation’s rivers for waterfowl is more than they care to endure. While it is true that chasing ducks and geese in these areas can be incredibly difficult, for those that prepare and are equipped to do so, it can be more than rewarding. In this article, we will discuss some of the equipment you should consider as well as tips and techniques that have proven time and time again to be effective. We cant tell you how many times we are asked the question, “Why do you even mess with hunting the river”. The answer is simple, because you can flat out load up on waterfowl IF you are prepared and equipped properly. Here in Central Missouri, we are blessed to have the opportunity to have several smaller rivers within driving distance, as well as the Big Muddy herself, the Missouri River right at our back door. For us, river hunting fits a very specific niche in our overall hunting strategy, and so far, it has worked well. So, why hunt the river? Hunting river systems can provide you with hunting opportunities when your normal go-to area is starting to wane. Hunting the river is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. You may be in mallards, and then divers. You must truly be prepared for anything. Additionally, where we hunt, there is relatively low hunting pressure on the river which is always a plus. You can truly be just one boat access away from a stellar hunt, if you are willing to put in the time. While there is nothing better than mallards cupped and committed in the marsh or flooded timber, there is also something magical about a large group of mallards working in the decoys on a big river set. For us, we tend to be very specific in regards to when we choose to tackle the river, and head out in search of winged fowl. There are really two scenarios that exist that will make use head for the ramp. The first scenario we would consider would be a large flight day when we know that we will be picking up a lot of ducks. We experienced a day like this this past year, around Veterans Day when our population nearly tripled in the course of a couple days. However, the majority of the time it is the absence of open water that drives us to the vast expanses of the river. For us, river hunting begins to become a viable option right around Christmas. By then, most of our normal go-to sites are experiencing some very hard freezes, and additionally the birds are beginning to become wise to the game. Many hunters tend to believe that once their normal hunting location is frozen and they are no longer seeing waterfowl, that all of the waterfowl have moved on. While is some cases this can be true, we have found that most of the birds in our area simply picked up and moved to the river. Once an area begins to freeze, waterfowl will continue to work to keep open water in a particular location for as long as possible. This is typically until the metabolic cost of keeping open water is greater than the amount of energy they are taking in. Once this happens they move on. If there is still ample forage available in the area, the birds will tend to favor river systems for roosting, and watering locations. Leaving the river periodically to feed in the surrounding fields and this is where we make our hay! Now that we have discussed a little bit as to WHY the river can be an affective option for the Hard Core waterfolwer, lets discuss gear for a little bit. First and foremost, would be the boat. While many river hunters have their preferences on style, brand and set up all will agree on one thing, NO FIBERGLASS! The one thing that you must be prepared to deal with when traversing rivers is debris and drastic changes in depth. You may be in 30ft of water one minuet then beached on a sandbar then next. Additionally, and this has happened to us often, you may be traveling on plane and have a log or some other form of debris surface out of nowhere. Aluminum boats are durable enough to withstand most of the abuse that river hunting can dish out, whereas a fiberglass boat would run a high risk of damage and even sinking. We typically run a 20ft, wide bottom river john with a 50 hp. E-Tech motor. The wide body allows this boat to be incredibly stable, and the 50 hp engine is powerful enough to get us anywhere we choose to go. While we do have a boat blind set up on our boat, we predominately choose to hunt from the bank or sandbar. We feel that it allows us to hide more effectively by simply constructing a blind out of debris or hiding the Man-Caves in the sand rather than trying to conceal a large boat behind a wing dike. So, we simply motor the boat close by and anchor it to the shore. Decoys are critical when hunting the river. Your standard moist soil spread will simply not cut the mustard in our opinion. As we stated previously, when birds begin to congregate on the river, it is usually due to the lack of open water other places. This means large rafts of birds, which is what we try to duplicate. On a typical day, we will put out anywhere from 10 to 15 dozen Hard Core decoys, mixing between mallards, divers and Canada geese. We try to duplicate a large raft of birds, leaving small pockets within the larger raft for birds to land, which works extremely well. When you are hunting the river, especially a large river like the Missouri, you will most likely find yourself hunting one of two habitat types. The first would be a sandbar. Sandbars are an indicator of shallow, slow moving water. Sandbars are usually located along the inside bends of a river, opposite the channel. These areas of slow moving water provide dry ground for birds to rest, as well as backwater areas for ducks and geese to congregate and water for the day. Sandbars maybe one of our favorite places to hunt, and there is nothing like having those shining greenheads at 10 yards! The second habitat type that you may find yourself hunting would be a backwater area behind a wing dike. A wing dike is rock structure that protrudes typically from the inside bend of a river outward toward the channel. This is designed to keep the channel in its current location as well as provide some shallow water habitat for fish and bird species. While these areas can be more difficult to hunt, in the right circumstances that can be absolutely lights out! There is an awful lot work that goes in to pulling off a successful river hunt, more than what we could include in this article in fact. However, we truly hope that you take the time to consider hunting these areas when the opportunity presents itself, and we are certain you won’t be disappointed!