Field Hunting Mallards
By Nick Johnson
As I looked through my binoculars, I couldn’t help feeling like an artillery battery waiting for the next wave of fighters. Checking the horizon for that distinct line in the sky. As I squinted harder I saw them! The first small wave followed by a much larger more intimidating squadron. I threw the binoculars into the bunker and let out the alarm to my buddies in the bunkers next to me! The single reed sirens blared, and the fight was about to begin!
That’s what field hunting mallards can feel like, and if you do the right scouting, have the right decoy spread out, and have picked a good hide. You won’t be able to load fast enough! Field hunting mallards have really come on strong since the inception of the spinning wing decoy. Even the smartest of refuge birds need to eat, and they tend to throw all caution to the wind when looking for that yellow protein, and when done right, you can have them literally feeding out of your hand.
Field hunting mallards starts at scouting, you can’t just pick a cornfield and throw some decoys and spinners out and have a good day. You need to find the X or in some cases be near the X. What I mean by this is you need to find the birds’ midday butt up chasing minnows. Find their lazy day spots. Find their spots where they rest, play and mingle. Once you’ve found this, grab a snack, a soda and wait. They’re bound to get hungry. As the dinner alarm sounds, the birds begin to exit these sanctuaries, and head to dinner. They have plenty of restaurants to pick from, but they all like to attend one mess hall for the most part. It turns into one big game of follow the leader. This is where a good running vehicle (or two), and a solid pair of binoculars come into play. You need to follow these birds the best you can. It can get hard and you may lose them a time or two, but don’t give up. I’ve followed birds two miles, and I’ve followed birds 40 miles. They’ve been known to go much farther to eat, one hen with a transmitter once traveled 70 miles everyday into another state to eat. But once you locate the feed you’ll quickly realize why to me it looks like an invasion!
After you have found the feed, you need to make sure you ask for permission. It is very rare to find a public cornfield with mallards in it, but it isn’t impossible. If it is private and you do obtain permission, make sure you ask about driving into fields. DO NOT assume that since they drive combines into it, that it’s ok to roll into his field in your truck. If the farmer doesn’t allow driving into his field all is not lost, you just need to improvise. Ask about four wheelers if you have one, or don’t be afraid to walk in also. If you can’t get permission for the X don’t give up. Ask about adjoining fields, or fields nearby. If you do end up walking in I highly recommend a good decoy bag/s. I use Avery slotted bags just because they have a good shoulder strap and I can easily put two dozen over my shoulder when walking in.
Now that you have permission, and you’ve watched them feed to the point of you getting hungry yourself, it’s now time to figure out what gear you need for the following day. Always watch them in the morning and night if at all possible. A lot of times they may only be feeding once a day. Make sure you have a good spot marked in the field where they’re very comfortable. I always like to go out after dark and mark that spot for the following morning. That way you don’t have four guys arguing in the dark the next morning on which knoll they were on the day before. Now that you’re at the spot, you need to brush your finisher blinds up to where you look just like the field. I always use either a base-coat of Killerweed, or a ghillie cover. After that I add natural stalks to the blind to make it look as natural as possible. Adding Killerweed or a ghillie cover will only help you in cutting back the time it takes to brush blinds. If you don’t have blinds, you need to pile up corn, and get some burlap. Cover yourself up as much as possible and use your blind bag for a headrest. When it comes to decoys, you’re going to get mixed answers because ducks don’t do the same thing. The one thing that they will do is to try to get ahead of the feeding group on the ground. They will almost surely land above the feeding mallards to beat them to the food source. I will put the majority of my full body mallards below the blinds (downwind) with the spinners in a nice hole right in front of the blinds. I try to never put the spinners on the blinds in case geese come. Invest in a remote and just turn them off if you see honkers. When you put spinners on the blinds, they tend to land behind you, making for a much tougher shot if any.
The beauty of field hunting is anyone can do it. You don’t need 10 dozen full body mallards; you can use full body honkers, shells or even floaters in the field. You can’t go wrong with a bunch of decoys, but you can easily get away with a minimal amount. Spinners while on the water can be a detriment, are golden in dry cornfields. They cannot stand the thought of other mallards beating them to the dinner table. Many people will put out as many spinners as they can afford. Some even use spinners on a rotating pole to simulate mallards circling right before landing.
You need to hunt and use what works for you. I always try to have two to four spinners and I put them fairly close to one another to make that area look “busy”, like the buffet is right there. If you can always try to put some pintails out with your mallards. Remember visibility is the key especially if you’re hunting an adjacent field, and that white stands out in a yellow cornfield.
You don’t need to be a world champion caller either to kill ducks in the corn. You need to hit them on the corners, and learn a decent feeding chuckle. Keep it simple and let the spread do all the talking. If a hen lights up above you, yell back, but again lone quacks, occasional cadences on the corners and a good feeding chuckle go a long way. Don’t be afraid to use a drake whistle or pintail whistle either.
Field hunting for mallards can be as good as it gets in terms of hunting big groups of mallards. Don’t be surprised if you see pintails, wigeons, wood ducks, and even green-wing teal mixed in. Our tasty Iowa corn is not just for the beautiful mallard. But when done right, and everything aligns perfectly, the sound and sight of hundreds of mallards dropping onto or near your boot-bag is nothing short of amazing. I can still close my eye’s in this office and picture and hear the sound of lone hens barking commands, the sound of chatter filling the skies, the wind racing through hundreds of wings as these amazing visitors from the north invade my favorite cornfields!