Diehard Delta member talks late-season ducks and geese
By Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor
Delta member Nate Stumpf and late-season goose.
In northern climates, most waterfowl hunters quit when the mercury drops and ponds freeze, even well before the end of the season.
But not Nate Stumpf of the Agassiz 4 Curls Chapter in Mapleton, N.D. When howling winds and spitting snow arrive, this diehard ducker is just getting warmed up. I asked Stumpf to share tips for late-season ducks and geese — tactics he uses in North Dakota, but that work anywhere Old Man Winter calls home.
DW: How are you able to kill birds when most hunters are done for the season?
Stumpf: Success in the late season is dependent on two things: open water and fields that birds can access for food. A big, fat drake mallard will stay as long as there is open water. In some areas that historically receive less snowfall, birds also have easier access to food. Another huge factor, in my opinion, is the birds experience less hunting pressure late season. People look at it like, "Well, first snowfall in N.D. The birds are gone." That's not the case. Things are just getting good!
DW: What waterfowl species do you typically encounter during the winter months, and how do that dictate the way you hunt?
Stumpf: Big, football-sized greenheads, and honkers that most people never see because they quit hunting so early. I am talking about your 747-sized birds. We look for fields to hunt because they tend to be more dependable. We don't rule out water, but too many people target roosts. If I am going to hunt water, I want that small piece of transition water that big mallards use before they jump into the field to feed, or after they stuff themselves with corn. The downside is a slough could freeze overnight. Granted, you can bust ice and hunt that hole, but I want to be where they were comfortable eating the night before. Hunting a field means I'll be waiting for them when they get hungry again.
DW: Is there a way to hunt divers without inadvertently busting a roost of puddle ducks?
Stumpf: As far as divers, focus on hunting big water, like the bays of large lake. Depending on the year, however, water can be scarce. As the temperature drops, it will be getting cold enough to start freezing a lot of small water. But when you get large concentration of birds showing up, they will keep that water from freezing. You pack 20,000 greenheads on a piece of water, and that baby is staying open for a while. There is no reason whatsoever to go bust a roost.
DW: Are late-season ducks and geese easy to decoy?
Stumpf: If you are on the "X," they will drop in. Big honkers decoy much better late season, even compared to the early season. You have to pay attention to detail on your blinds, though. If there is snow in the field, get a snow cover, or pick up some spray Christmas tree flocking. You will literally be invisible to the birds from their vantage point.
DW: Is there any special equipment you use during late season?
Stumpf: We use the same stuff as regular season, but do change up our decoys to match the birds a bit. Snow geese are here now, for example, so we emptied out the back half of our trailer, kept about 120 full-body honkers, and added 800 snow goose decoys. We had a very realistic spread.
DW: Any other tips or tactics for hunting late-season ducks and geese?
Stumpf: Get in your truck put on the miles. Find two, three, four different shoots for your morning hunt. If you get beat to a spot, move to the second field. If you don't have a Plan B, set up in a field close to the feed you wanted to hunt and try to traffic birds. Don't be surprised if you go to bed one night and it gets wicked cold, and you wake up the next morning and birds are gone. Late season can be awesome and some of the best hunting you will ever experience, but it can be very heartbreaking, too. I have found feeds of 1,000 honkers and 10,000 mallards, watched them feed and get comfortable that evening, only to set up the next morning and watch every one of them get up and head for Mexico. Still, if you do your homework, watch the weather and put the miles on to find those monster feeds, you can experience duck and goose hunting like you have never seen before in your life.