Most Decembers, a deep freeze comes to northeast Ohio.
The land is wrapped in a blanket of thick white snow and ice clings to everything. The ponds, lakes, and swamps freeze over and send the ducks and geese to the rivers. The problem is that large sections of most rivers are inaccessible by land – which means it is time to bust out the kayak and float.
I got started kayak hunting about six years ago. It was my buddy Zach’s idea. He is the one who got me started on waterfowl the year before. He has hunted ducks pretty much his whole life, mostly over decoys. But during one of our hunts he told me that one thing he always wanted to try was to float down the local river and see if it was possible to duck hunt that way. He said he had heard of guys doing it. I was game, because, why not? Kayaking is fun and shooting ducks is fun, so combining them should be twice as fun.
Later that year we decided to give it a try. It was late in the season, duck season had already closed, but goose was still in. We planned out a 5 mile route to float. We dropped off our kayaks at the launch and drove his truck to our pull out. We drove my car back to the start point and began our journey.
I had been down that river plenty of times but only during the summer. During summer this part of the river would be teaming with canoes and you could hear laughing and horseplay up and down it. But winter is different. It is way more peaceful and more beautiful. The snow and ice covered the banks and little ice chunks floated by. The only thing you could here was the quacking of ducks and the occasional chatter of a squirrel. Needless to say – it was the perfect time to be in nature.
We ended up only shooting one goose that trip (my first), but it opened our eyes. There were ducks everywhere. We could have easily shot our limit. Half way through the float we vowed right then and there that next year we would be back before duck season closed.
The next year we floated that same five mile stretch of river quite a few times. We were able to shoot several and had a ton of fun doing it. After that season I was hooked. Every year I look forward to everything icing over so I can hit the river.
I do not get a limit every time but I always see birds and usually get shots. I have learned a lot since our first trip. I found a few places in the river where the ducks always sit and learned the best ways to approach them.
The tactics are simple but it is more than just get in a float. Here are a few of the things we learned:
1. Ducks like to hangout out off the main current. They will be sitting on the back sides of log jams and in smaller tributaries. Get your kayak positioned for a shot as you come up to these places. They jump quickly so be ready.
2. Do as little paddling as necessary, it is not a race. Use your paddle to keep you straight and navigate around obstacles. You want your speed to be that of the current.
3. Try and stick to the edges of the river – they offer you the best concealment. Only go into the middle to navigate around obstacles.
4. You will spook ducks but they usually fly up river and land sometimes within eye sight and you will have another crack at them.
Hunting from a kayak is a lot of fun. I recommend giving it a try. If you want to plan your own trip here are a few things to consider before you venture out onto a river.
1. Make sure it is legal in your state. In Ohio you are allowed to hunt on any navigable water way. You just cannot anchor, tie up or get out of your boat without written permission from the land owner. Water access laws are different in every state so check your regulations.
2. In a kayak your shoot zone is between 10 and 2 o’clock. If you shoot outside of that sector you risk throwing your kayak off balance.
3. Stay away from blow downs and submerged logs. Flipping a kayak is fun in the summer but when it’s below freezing it can be downright dangerous. (I speak from personal experience. I floated up against a log and the under current pinned my boat up against it. I tried to paddle out of it but the current pushed the nose of my kayak down and rolled it. It was 28 degrees outside and I was completely soaked. I had to run a mile down the river to our pull out point and had stage one hypothermia when I got there.
4. Tether your shotgun. My cousin decided to go out with me once; he shifted wrong in his kayak got a little unstable. He was holding his gun and paddle and went to drop his paddle but let go with the wrong hand and dropped his shotgun in 10 feet of water, never to be seen again.
So next time the weather turns cold and your favorite duck hole freezes over, your season is not over. Pull out the kayak and hit the river. It’s a ton of fun and a good way to fill a limit.
This Article written by WhackStar Hunter Aaron Futrell and published in Take’em Waterfowl Journal to check them out CLICK HERE