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Being ready for this years Waterfowl season By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

August 16, 2019

As fall approaches, duck and goose hunters are starting to think about all that needs worked on before the season even opens.
Those with dogs have been working with their retrievers, keeping them in shape so they are ready for the duck & goose opener.

A Waterfowler’s best friend is his retriever, keeping them in shape during the off-season can consume a lot of time, but it’s worth it when your dog retrieves that first duck or goose of the season.

During the spring and summer some have been practicing, spending time at the range shooting sporting clays to sharpen their shooting eye so they’re ready when the first birds come in with their cupped and their feet down.

Waterfowler’s like others and me have hunted ducks and geese kneeling down, camouflaged in the corn, along fences lines and in sloughs, out of hay bale, lay down, and other portable blinds.

Then there were the times we spent hunting from pit and elevated blinds as well as several exotic blinds that blew my mind, which we’ll cover later in the column.

Depending on what the hunters are hunting and the size of the spread wanted, the numbers of decoys and types can vary.

I’ve hunted over spreads that included, floaters, full-bodies, shells, silhouettes, battery powered wing movement, aerial kites and wind socks decoys that ranged from a couple of dozen to several hundred.

One of the first things Waterfowler’s need to check are those decoys quickly stored at the end of last season; they now need a going over, to see the damage inflicted on them by Mother Nature and during last year’s final hunts.

This is important, in order to see how they fared through the winter, as there are always decoys or parts of the decoy that need some work, repainted, repaired or replaced, and if needed new ones ordered from your favorite waterfowl equipment distributors.

Since last season, there have been numerous new decoys and styles now available and worth looking into.

For those hunters like myself who hunt out of portable blinds, the laydown, hay bale blinds and others they should check those blinds used late season, to see how they came through the winter and that no mouse or other critter took up residence in them or chewed them up.

If your portable blind has seen better days, and needs repair or updated, numerous new blinds came on the market like the Dakota Decoy X blind, it and others could make your hunting more comfortable as well as productive.

For those with permanent blinds, every year it seems as if they need some minor repair, making sure, the hunters have no problem coming up smoothly and that the camouflage covering the pit is still working properly.

Because of the numerous weather patterns our areas have went through, the snow, rain, and dirt been blown into the blind, will more than likely need a thorough cleaning.

On many of permanent blinds I’ve hunted out of, as far as blind covers, we used Roger’s Dura Cover’s synthetic blind covers, as its natural color blends in with your blind and last for years. Constructed of a broom straw type material, it allows hunters to watch incoming birds and when the time is right, they can quickly come up through the Dura-Cover and know where the birds are.

All blinds will need some type of attention unless you hunt on the Missouri River, where you’ll move last year’s blind from storage and place it on a sandbar in the river.

One of my first Nebraska waterfowl hunts, I helped my hunting partner build a steel base plywood blind that we put out on the Missouri River, camouflaged it with reeds and willows, it worked quite well, but our calling left a lot to be desired.

For those hunting in fields or other private land, hunters need to obtain permission to trespass on the land and set up on a farmer’s fields.

There are some hunters as I have done in the past that simply threw out a few decoys, working our calls. letting and duck or goose within hearing distance that we were close by, while we hunkered down in the reeds or other cover waiting for the birds to come off the water and move out to feed.

Because waterfowl migrate, the length of the seasons are set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the states deciding when and where the seasons will open up in their states.

Don’t be one of those hunters like one I hunted with near Kearney, Nebraska who thought he had all permits and stamps needed only to find out when checked by the game warden, to find out he forget to purchase his Federal Duck Stamp from their local Post office.

Most states now also have their own waterfowl stamp with most of these purchased when you buy your hunting license on line.

Hunters will also want to make sure they are carrying and using the correct type of, shells as Waterfowler’s and hunters in the U.S., South Dakota and other states that hunt on wetlands need to use approved nontoxic shot for waterfowl hunting.

The following non lead loads are approved for hunting waterfowl; including Bismuth-tin, Iron (steel), Iron-tungsten, Iron-tungsten-nickel, Copper-clad iron, Corrosion-inhibited copper, Tungsten-bronze, Tungsten-iron-copper-nickel, Tungsten-matrix, Tungsten-polymer, Tungsten-tin-iron, Tungsten-tin-bismuth, Tungsten-tin-iron-nickel, and Tungsten-iron-polymer loads.

Permanent blinds on private property can consist of tanks dug into the ground, concrete and fiberglass pit blinds, as well as other more exotic blinds as some are more of an underground house than a blind.

One of our Team Members families has 40-acres of irrigated land just off the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota.

The first thing they did when they purchased the land was to build a thirty by eight foot concrete blind that will hold up to 12 hunters. Out in front of it they built a one and a half acre pond.

The remainder of the acres leased, planted to crops in the spring and harvested in the fall prior to the waterfowl season.

They then added irrigation on the land and at the same time ran water to the pond, which can be filled from the blind and if some decoy action is needed wave action added from the blind, with water sprayed across the surface bringing the decoys to life. If that’s not enough movement, they have several MoJo decoys that are wired into the pit, turned on or off when needed.

The heating system is in both the concrete walls and floor, so staying comfortable is not a problem.

Behind the stairs coming into the blind is the kitchen with a two-burner stove, microwave, refrigerator, toaster, coffee pot and all the makings of a GREAT blind breakfast, its one exceptional blind.

Back when I was test-driving pickups for Chevrolet and Ford, we were on the east coast running a 4-wheeler obstacle course, with jumps, downed timber and water.

After a long day on the course seeing what we could break, one of the lead drivers asked if any of us hunted waterfowl, as he wanted to show us one of the blinds in the area.

We jumped at the chance and headed east to an area that had elevated ground overlooking a small lakes or sloughs.

As we approached one of these locations, the lead driver pulled in behind one of these mounds, a huge door opened up into a garage area where we parked and then we walked into a smaller locker room with both walls lined with lockers, then into a kitchen/bar where several hunters were finishing breakfast.

Shortly after introductions, another door opened with a guide indicating it was time, with the hunters stepping up onto a platform to position themselves with large padded swivel seats.

The guides were calling, and looking through a camouflaged screen we could see at the far end of the lake, above the water where two flocks of ducks making their approach, wings cupped, ready to drop into the decoys.

Once within range, the guides hollered “Take Em’ with the screen dropping, giving the hunters perfect shots at the incoming birds.

As the birds fell, the dogs that where waiting in their own camo kennel to the right and left of the guides, were released, they made the retrieves and then brought the birds back to their kennels then retrieved by the guides.

I also hunted with my fishing partner and one of our friends; they had a permanent blind on one of the sandbars in the Missouri river, when blinds where left out all season. They had excellent dogs and knew how to call.

Hunting with them, I managed to drop my first goose, a Specklebelly that still adorns the wall of my office.

Once In southwestern Nebraska, we hunted with one of our Team members who had an outdoor radio show and knew many of the waterfowl hunters in the area.

On this trip, in the early morning darkness we were in several Jon boats that launched in a large body of water, with our film crew, hunters and their dogs out to an elevated blind, with the dogs deposited in individual wire camouflaged boxes on either side of the main blind.

From the boat, we stepped up to a platform and ushered into the blind. The hunters checked and rearranged the decoys, before joining us after hiding the boats out of sight under the blind.

Inside the heated blind were padded benches, lights, a refrigerator with your favorite beverages, four-burner stove, cooking utensils, food with plenty of room to move around.

These hunters were talented callers as we watched several groups of greenheads, Mallards and other ducks dropping into the set up. Once the birds were down, within range the hunters, Yelled “Take Em” as the report of six shotguns went off about the same time with as many birds down on the water.

The another hunter Yelled “Get Em” and the two dogs came from their water level hides, camouflaged blinds to retrieve the birds.

After finishing another hunt in the area, we stopped along the road where our friend who lived locally, pulled out his binoculars to check the slough.
Then using his cell phone dialed a number and told it was Okay to come in, we pulled into this sandy area, with the only thing visible was a TV and Dish.

We walked toward the antennae and out of the sand, a big sand covered door opened up with stairs leading down to the next level, with several lockers lined up along the one wall with floor mounted gun racks holding over a dozen shotguns on the other.

Going through another door,there was a kitchen, a table and bar with a television. The final door we went through, we stepped down onto an area with another television mounted on the end wall behind an elevated platform where the owner and his kids were setting, looking out over the decoys on the beach and those in the water.

It had been a slow day for them as it had for us, but our friend just wanted us to see how the Waterfowler’s in this part of the state roughed it!
No matter how you hunt ducks and geese, here’s hoping that the weather up north will cooperate and push the waterfowl down your way and that this will be a great waterfowl season for you.

Gary Howey, originally from Watertown, S.D., now residing in Hartington, Neb. is a former tournament angler, fishing & hunting guide, an award winning writer, producer, photographer and broadcaster, a recent inductee into the “National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame” in 2017. Howey is also the Producer-Co-Host of the Outdoorsmen Adventures television series and Outdoor Adventures radio. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out, and like Gary Howey’s Facebook or watch his shows on

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