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The art of pothole duck hunting

3 min read
Pothole duck hunting

Whether hunting from a wetland or a pothole, using a duck decoy is an effective way to attract ducks. Photo: Adobe Stock

It can be an odd thing about many duck shooters: many tend to congregate in certain familiar duck shooting places when they can enjoy their sport in relative peace and without nearby shooters mucking up their shooting.

You know the score – chaps who blast off at high-flying out-of-range ducks, sending the ducks even higher and further out of range and ruining it for everyone else around. Perhaps duck shooters are gregarious and like to be near other shooters, although, I’m pretty certain of this little foundation. Maybe some shooters get fun out of trying to compete with other shooters. I can’t believe that one. Nobody wins in that situation.

In any case, a duck shooter would have better success – and some quality duck shooting sport at that – in shooting what my friend Rangi calls, potholes.

A pothole is any small body of water, such as a farm pond, a sluggish winding, willow-lined creek or the local willow fringed river, or it may be an irrigation ditch, a swampy bit with a bit of water. Scouting before the season can help you find these places. If you spot duck breast feathers drifting on the surface, it’s a sure pointer to ducks having been there. These are the places where ducks retreat to avoid the more popular spots where they are likely to be continually shot at. Do take note: potholes are not about the quantity of ducks but the quality of the sport.

There are a couple of ways to shoot a pothole or two. One is to sneak up, at first light or late evening, and take a shot or two when the ducks flush. Then hunker down and hide to see if they will return to give you another chance for a bird for two.

The other way is to construct a hide and set out two or three decoys and wait. The purpose of decoys is not to attract birds because they are homing in on the pothole anyway. Instead, you’re trying to fool them into thinking it’s safe to come in. To add to that, attach a string back from one of the decoys to your concealment place. Give it a gentle tug to create ripples, making the ducks think the decoys are the real McCoy. But don’t overdo it – a twitch or two will suffice.

Place the decoys well apart to give the illusion they are relaxed and feeding. Potholes are invariably surrounded by scrub, a tree, or flaxes. It’s seldom necessary to build a maimai. It’s better not to disturb the vegetation, as resident ducks may recognise any unusual objects for changes.

A few duck calls will help to convince the ducks that your decoys are real birds. Don’t over-talk, just a little contented gabbling will do.

Tips for effective pothole hunting

Consider the sun: Take note of where the sun rises and sets, depending on whether it’s a dawn or evening hunt. It can be impossible to see when the birds start flying in if the sun is behind them. Keep your face hidden by camouflage netting or face paint and wear a long-billed hat or a brimmed hat.

Approach with the wind: When you approach a pothole, do so with the wind behind you, so the ducks will flush towards you as they get up off the water.

Use binoculars: It’s worth taking a pair of 8×25 binoculars to look well ahead when approaching a pothole or a bend in the creek or river. A good pair of binoculars is handy, so you don’t disturb the birds prior to getting within range.

Ask for permission: If your pothole or creek is on a farm, ask the farmer for access to their property. Most farmers are approachable but do see them well in advance. They might even be able to also offer some good advice on duck whereabouts.

Find duck food sources: Look for a pothole close to a duck food source. Corn paddocks are good, but then modern harvesting techniques often leave little duck tucker behind.

Remember, potholing is about quality, not big numbers. For the experienced shooter, it’s more skilful and fun. And above all, don’t for get that shotgun safety. Happy hunting.

Words by Fred Hemi

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