Photos by Bill Buckley
Shoot more birds by hunting the reeds on backwater tidal ponds.
The vast majority of saltwater duck nuts hunt puddlers from boat blinds in the marshland right off main-water channels. That’s what makes hiking into hidden tidal salt ponds so deadly, especially in the late season, when all those other guys have pushed birds off the familiar spots. So ditch the boat for a layout blind this winter, and hammer some salt-pond ducks.
Some isolated salt ponds can be spotted at any time of day from a boat or the road, but the best honey holes often fill at high tide, then trickle down to sand as the water recedes. Scout for the ponds, rather than the ducks, at high tide. You may spot ducks loafing in an isolated corner of the marsh, but a lack of birds doesn’t mean passersby won’t decoy in. Hunt when the falling tide overlaps with sunup, if possible. Birds will be flying and looking for invertebrates and fresh marsh grass as the water seeps away.
Hike to It
No matter how good the grass job, a boat blind can stand out to late-season ducks. Use it for transportation if you must. But then leave it covered up on the main waterway, and hoof it to your hunting spot. Because getting there will be such a chore, you won’t have to worry about other hunters.
Short marsh grasses can make concealment a challenge. That means low-profile layout blinds are the way to go. If your blind’s canvas is a bright cornstalk-yellow, rub it with mud and sand for a darker base. Grass the blind with spartina cut from the water’s edge; add seaweed, driftwood…anything handy that helps it blend in. When you think it looks good, work on it for another 10 minutes.
Stake Your Dekes
Salt ponds are shallow, often only a few inches deep. Leave the heavy cork blocks at home and use full-body ducks on stakes if you have them. Or cut the keels off of some cheap, lightweight floaters, so they won’t snag or tip in the skinny water. Goose silhouettes and shells also do wonders here.
Tidal ponds never hold many birds; set your spread accordingly. Four to six full-body mallards with a couple of goose shells for confidence are often just right. If you’re targeting geese, throw in a few more shells. For black ducks, which rarely decoy to mallards, place three or four species-specific decoys off the main spread. Call small, too. I’ve only ever heard soft, contented calling on the salt chuck. Once they hear you, be prepared to shoot. Some days you only get a passing look; -others you can’t keep them out of the spread.