Shooting Late Season Ducks and Geese

It’s presumptuous and risky handing out shooting tips. I’m not a particularly good shot, but I figure there’s somebody out there who can benefit from my experience, so here are some opinions that may help.

Especially with ducks, late season produces the toughest shots.

Last Wednesday, I joined my friend Tom Billingsley at Los Banos Wildlife Area for a refuge hunt – first of the year for me.

Tom had drawn a low number so we were third to choose a place to hunt. We took pond 1A near the closed zone. This pond allows the hunters to move around within the confines of the levees around the pond. In other words, you have your own protected zone.

In one sense this is good, but hunting near the closed zone also guarantees that you will have hunters next to you. Didn’t matter on this day as we had a good supply of targets once the fog thinned out.

I didn’t fire a shot until about 9 AM. Amazingly to me, the hunters in the next pond seemed to have fired almost a box of shells before I popped off my first. But, when I began to shoot, the ducks fell. I was mostly on target – had the feel of the lead.

Proud of our birds, Lola and I posed while Tom took our photo.

I’m not a great shot, but like most of us I have good days and bad  days. Wednesday was a good day. Some of the things that come to mind regarding refuge shooting on late season ducks.

1.) The birds do not often set their wings and slow down. They pass by at full speed and on the edge of range. Shots tend to be longer and leads longer. I was shooting very fast steel  – 1550 fps, yet most of my leads were in the three to five foot range.

2.) Preparing for the shot as the bird approaches is key. I shoot best when I can see the bird clearly for about 60 yards or more. Concentrating on the bird for a period of time before raising the shotgun helps me anticipate the lead, but it’s instinctive, not calculated.

3.) Foot position and balance is very important. I shoot best when my left foot is pointed at the bird (or slightly left of the bird) as it approaches.

4.) Stand up to shoot, but do it at the right time. Assuming the bird is coming straight at me, I would estimate that the right time to stand is when the bird is at approximately a 35- 45 degree angle (the pond being zero and straight up 90 degrees).

5.) Raise the gun smoothly, swing past the bird and pull the trigger when the lead feels right. I don’t follow the bird or look  at the barrel. If I do either of these, I will miss. (Point don’t aim.)

6.) Your first shot is your best shot, so make the most of it. But, if you miss, a second shot often brings the bird down as sometimes you figure something out with the miss. (Sometimes I make the mistake of aiming on the first shot, but seldom make that mistake on the second shot.)

7.) When selecting a place to hide, pick out cover that is tall enough to cover your body, but make sure your eyes are clear of obstructions. Obstructions will hinder your vision and your shooting, even if they are only partial. (A good face mask is important. It allows you to look directly at the bird without being detected.)

8.) Periodically pick up your shotgun to clear it of the tules or cattails that can interfere with your swing.

Geese are an entirely different topic. I hunted Webb Tract on Friday and killed four specs, but it was frustrating. With geese you need to follow the bird and swing way out in front. If you double your normal duck lead, you’ll be in the ball park for hitting them.

Geese look closer than they are and they fly faster than they look. Nothing can take the place of experience with this type of shooting.

Lola had a great time chasing down my geese which seemed to always be hit with my third shot.

Saturday was the season finale for me and we hunted Mayberry. My cousin Wes and I shot almost all our shells and came in at noon with a mixed bag of spoonies, widgeon, gadwall and one pintail.

We also missed a spec and some close-range pintail shots.

I didn’t shoot as well on Friday and Saturday. With the geese I struggled with getting the lead right and I was a little too jumpy with the ducks. About 9 AM a slight breeze came up and we put out the wind-wacker (spinning wing). The birds began to make more consistent passes and we shot a little better.

Wes and I were not picky about the ducks we shot and had plenty of action.

Although we didn’t hunt from the Final Approach duck boat, it was a valuable tool, allowing us to reach a hunting spot and carry the gear we needed. 

All in all it was a very good week.

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