Most recreational hobbies revolve around nice weather. We love to go boating on a warm, sunny summer day. Even a skier loves a clear and sunny winter day after a nice powder snowfall. What makes us different as waterfowl hunters is that we live for the gloomy, misty and cold-front conditions with overcast skies and mud everywhere. That is not to say that we cannot be successful in the field in other conditions; waterfowl hunting largely depends on weather and knowing how conditions affect the birds will impact your success.
Let’s start with the obvious; storms and low-pressure weather systems. As mentioned previously, this is when most people stay inside, but not the waterfowl hunter. When a front is coming in, we can expect wind and overcast skies. Why is this beneficial? For one, sunlight can expose us badly in the field. Our faces, gun barrels, even the collar on the dog can glare in direct sunlight and that will deter birds from your spread.
To accompany the overcast skies and absence of bright sunlight, there is increased wind moving the storm front in. Wind is probably one of the top factors to consider when preparing for a hunt. Wind causes birds to move, and when birds move, our chances of possible encounters increase. Ducks and geese will seek areas in which they are protected from the wind including back water, coves or backsides of islands and peninsulas, or banks that are protected from the wind. While birds are seeking protected areas, they are flying over more hunting areas and increasing our chances for success.
Furthermore, when storms arrive there is always a chance for changing winds. As winds change, so do the protected areas for the birds. A bank that was out of the wind may no longer suffice with a wind chance, causing birds to leave the area and seek a new spot. These conditions can be difficult to travel in for ducks and geese, so it is likely that birds may fly lower to the ground where air tends to be calmer; ideal for enhanced shooting opportunities.
There is always that point during the season where temperatures drastically drop. Depending on your hunting spots, this can be a great thing or a curse! Shallow water will ice over, so that might mean your spot is done. Ice also makes boat travel much tougher. However, when smaller, shallow water bodies ice over, we know the birds will be in bigger bodies of water, narrowing down ideal places to hunt. We also know that to stay warm, birds will begin feeding more than the normal one time per day, which may translate into extended opportunities to shoot birds in the field (scouting will always be your best asset). Birds will eat before dawn, as well as in the afternoon typically when temps reach this level of cold. Scouting will also play a large role in knowing where the open water is, and if birds are using it.
Freezing temperatures are one thing; they will not single handedly force birds out of the area. Snow on the other hand (if it gets deep enough) will force birds to seek food somewhere else. A foot of snow makes scrounging up food difficult. If food is still accessible with snow on the ground, pay attention to cornfields or even timber areas depending on snow cover. Certain birds are accustomed to feeding certain ways, so your scouting reports will vary.
Snow fall and fog can also dramatically decrease visibility. These conditions typically cause birds to remain grounded, however if you can catch a few in route to a secure place to stage, you might do well (especially when weather quickly changes and birds are caught off guard). In low visibility, it pays to call loud and long; birds that are scrambled by weather that hear a friendly call are likely to come to it!
Give me a cold and wet day any day! Clear and sunny skies make for some tough hunting. The main reason is direct sunlight has a tendency to expose any flaws in our camo. This means our clothing, our blinds and even our skin. When you hunt on a sunny day make sure everything is concealed. The light also makes any of our movements (or your dog) highly visible.
The next issue with sunny days is the enhanced shadows produced from the light. Depending on the position of the sun, your blinds, your decoys and other gear, large shadows may be cast in the field looking very unnatural to birds. Do your best to be aware of this risk. You might even consider digging your layout blind into the ground to reduce shadows!
Understanding bird behavior and how it correlates to weather is absolutely critical for maximizing our chances of success in the field. As I have said numerous times in previous articles, scouting and patterning the birds behavior and travel will always prevail, regardless of conditions! This is done by driving around and seeking locations, following birds and simply hunting as much as you can while paying attention to bird movement and timing. This sport can be enjoyed in all kinds of weather, which is partly why I enjoy it so much. But nothing beats a cold, damp, overcast and wet fall day!