If you weren’t raised with a parent or family member that hunts waterfowl, it can be a very intimidating world to get into on your own, especially as a female waterfowler. There is lots to know, not a lot of places to find information and everyone has an opinion of their own for what works and what doesn’t. Luckily, Manitoba is well known as one of the hottest destinations in North America for waterfowl, so you are already in the right place to learn. Canada Geese field hunts are some of the most popular types of waterfowl hunts in many of Manitoba’s regions. This is a fantastic option and experience for a guided outing or heading out with an experienced friend or family member who have plenty of decoys and ground blinds. However, if you are looking to venture into the spectacular pastime of waterfowling as a beginner and are not sure where to start I have included 7 tips and general information to help the female waterfowler get out into the field or marsh.
Permission and Location:
Manitoba hunters are fortunate to have hunting opportunities available on millions of hectares of prime agriculture and wetlands. After scouting and locating a good spot with lots of activity, your first step, if the land is private, is to secure permission. How do you find out who owns the land? You can purchase a land ownership map index at Canada Map Sales or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes the local town RM office may be able to assist as well. When seeking permission always be respectful of the landowners and their rules. Demonstrate your ethics and morality towards the hunting laws and if permission is granted, be sure to leave the land exactly how it was when you got there.
Personally, I prefer to hunt in the marsh. There are many options in Manitoba for marsh hunts. A popular location is Delta Marsh which consists of an extensive open marsh located near the south shore of Lake Manitoba. We use a 16ft flat bottom Jon boat. However, a simple canoe is a fine choice if you are a beginner. I find you do not need a huge decoy spread for the marsh either which is perfect for a beginner who may not have a lot of gear.
The right camouflage is important. If you are hitting the field and using a layout blind, camouflage isn’t as crucial, as the blind will cover you. A cheaper alternative is to build your own blind out of natural cover or utilize hay bales in the field for a hide while ensuring you are concealed as the bird’s approach. You can also cover with camo netting or burlap sacks as another cheap alternative. If you are hunting the marsh you will need waders. Neoprene waders are recommended as it is very cold hunting in the marsh come fall. For female waterfowler’s like myself I prefer ones with velcro straps and no buckles as I find the buckles are always right where I put the butt end of my firearm which can get uncomfortable after a morning of shooting. I dress in layers as it can get warm setting up your spread and hiding the boat but after sitting for a while your body temperature will drop and it will get cold. We use the marsh to cover our boat as much as possible. We have also made a makeshift blind we put in front of the boat when the waters are low, we use three stakes and camo mesh netting found at Cabela’s.
You cannot go wrong with a 12-gauge pump action shotgun. It is a very common shotgun and very easy to handle. The most important factor is to use something you are going to be comfortable with. As well as to shoot regularly to build your confidence before the excitement of the hunt. Choose your shot size to match the species and where you are hunting. I currently buy my shells from Harvester Outdoors in Selkirk. They have very knowledgeable friendly staff who will help you choose the right ammunition for your hunt depending on your firearm and what you are targeting (ducks or geese). The number one rule is if you aren’t sure, ask.
Many waterfowlers believe in the “bigger the better” theory of decoys, which may be true in some field hunts. However, when it comes to waterfowl marsh hunts as mentioned earlier, you can get by with under two dozen. There are numerous different patterns and theories. We like to deploy a “U” spread. The “U” would be your decoys, then the space in between the “U” is where the ducks will land. When selecting your set-up, keep in mind that ducks will land into the wind. Facing the opening of the “U” downwind will give the birds a good look at your set up and give them the space they need to cup up and drop into your lap.
When to go:
For resident hunters, the season opens at the beginning of September however, the majority of birds flying will be local birds. Often, these local birds will have already been shot at and can become a lot wearier of your spread and much more difficult to get to land. I like to get out early regardless to practice and try new things. Most avid waterfowlers will really ramp up their season come October, which is typically the best time for duck hunting
While many attribute luck and time of the season to successful hunts, scouting plays a huge role. None of the above-mentioned will matter if there are no ducks around. Ducks and geese will generally have a home they roost at, then a feeding area as well. In the marsh, especially for geese, you are hunting the “traffic areas”. These are the areas that they will be flying over to go from where they roost, to where they feed (in the fields). Ducks and geese will mostly feed in the morning and evening hours. Ducks in general love water, therefore if you are after the excitement of duck hunting, you will find your best action when hitting the marsh or local potholes/dykes.
Calling can make or break you. It is not easy to become a skilled caller and takes a lot of time and practice to finesse. Wood duck calls are a great beginner call. They make soft noises, are very easily blown and are a good way to attract a duck’s attention. We will typically call loudly and aggressively to get the ducks attention when they are further away, then as they start veering in our direction we will call less and when they look fully committed to our spread we will stop calling completely. When learning how to call it is good practice to try and mimic the ducks themselves, learning from nature can often be one of the best methods to use to help refine your skills and sound as real as possible. You will need to practice on various calls to find what works best for you. Deploy a trial and error technique, and if the ducks are not checking out your spread, or flaring away before presenting a shot, you will need to tweak and adjust your calling sequence to help figure out what works best.
More than your limit:
Waterfowl hunting is about so much more than just limiting out. If you are not successful the first time you head out, just be proud of yourself for getting out on your own. The second time you venture out, aim to have a duck land in your spread or work on your calls. There is lots to learn and refine, trial and error will be your best friend. Use best practices, be safe and always maintain an ethical mindset. Hunting in general, regardless of the species you are targeting should always be about being one with nature, making memories, respecting animals and the environment, and enjoying the incredible table fare that Manitoba’s wildlife provides.
Check out our Waterfowl Hunting page for more information on hunting waterfowl in Manitoba.
Celebrate the experience of hunting in Manitoba, submit your harvest to the Manitoba Master Hunter Program.
For information on hunting programs, training, mentored hunts and more, Visit Manitoba Wildlife Federations Go Hunt page
HuntFishMB Contributor: Courtlyn Suszko