Tides and Duck Hunting
Hunting in and around tidal water comes with an array of interesting opportunities, but there are also more challenges—and risks—involved, requiring detailed planning and expert hunting skills. How much of a role do tides play when planning your duck hunting expedition? Do ducks fly better when tides are incoming or outgoing, and does it really matter? Let’s take a closer look and find some answers.
Typically, there is no exact answer regarding hunting success at different tidal phases, as it depends on the hunter’s preferences, weather, surroundings, and other circumstances. There are hunters who prefer a rising tide for the following reason; many ducks feed in and around mud flats or low marsh areas during low tide, and by the time the tide comes in, the water gets too deep for them to feed. This forces them to head for tidal ponds or freshwater areas. Conversely, others choose to hunt at low tide, catching birds which are going to a feeding place. To succeed in hunting in high and low tides, you should keep in mind several things.
- First and foremost, analyze tide tables and learn how different winds and moon phases affect the tides in your area.
- Determine which species you are most interested in, spot their preferences, and hunt accordingly. To kill a black duck, for example, going when the water is all the way out would be a smart move, as that's when these ducks work the mud flats for snails and mussels. Typically, (but not always) during the incoming tide you should hunt puddlers, and when it’s an outgoing tide, hunt divers.
When it comes to duck hunting in low tides, here are the major tips:
- Find a few productive spots on bays to hunt when the tide is incoming, then as the tide shifts, move to different spots. This will extend your shooting time by several hours.
- Start hunting at low tide. Most birds prefer to feed in these conditions because they don’t have to dive as deep to find their food. Generally speaking, it’s easier to shoot a duck on a river when it’s low tide.
- Use a kayak instead of a traditional boat.
Meanwhile, tips for duck hunting in high tides include the following:
- Get prepared for high tides. The rising water changes the ducks' environment and puts them on the move. Birds start flying when the tide begins to push up into the intertidal zone. It’s high time you caught them!
- Use heavier weights in high tides to help anchor your boat, compared to when floating in still waters. A powerful running tide can easily sweep decoys away.
As you can see, it’s possible to hunt at both high and low tide, and the hunting tactics greatly vary, but you can use them both. Just for the record, it’s recommended to start hunting in deeper areas at low tide, and then moving to more comfortable areas as the tide changes. Makes sense, right?
No matter which tide you choose, there are still some steps you need to take before hunting. Let’s take a more detailed look.
Open Water Duck Hunting: Steps to Take Before Getting Started
- Take a boating class and get a State Boater Education Card.
- Spy on birds and try to determine their preferred habitats at both high and low tides. Unlike birds that thrive in still water, tidewater ducks are often on the move, because their preferred habitat either becomes too dry or too wet as the tides change.
- Scout your hunting spot at low tide to determine the best place to anchor your boat. Use Duckr to save your locations, take notes and check the weather forecast beforehand.
- Ensure you are not overloading your boat. Choppy water and too little freeboard is a recipe for your boat to be swamped or capsized.
- Don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. In case of emergency, people will at least have an idea of where to start looking for you.
As to the question of whether it's better to hunt at high or low tide, there is no definitive answer. It depends on numerous aspects, including a hunter’s preferences and the nearest surroundings. It’s still possible to be successful hunting during both high and low tides. The only thing required is careful preparation and good planning. Utilizing the aforementioned methods can really improve your chances. Good luck!
P.S. Flat water and stagnant decoys are likely to raise a red flag for ducks flying overhead and searching for a place to land, so ensure you keep some movement on the water by using jerk strings and/or other moving decoys.