The weather the last couple of weeks has been described as “weather only a duck could love,” so it is fitting that the duck hunting season is almost here.
Waterfowl season for Zone 1&2 (which includes all the state except the panhandle) runs Nov. 14-29, and Dec. 5 – Jan 31. The remaining Youth waterfowl day for Zone 2 will be Feb. 6.
Goose season runs Nov. 7-29 & Dec. 5- Feb. 14 for dark geese and light geese (all geese except white-fronted geese) and Nov. 7-29 & Dec. 5-Feb. 7 for white-fronts.
Be sure to check the Oklahoma Waterfowl guide, which is in the regular Hunting booklet for seasons and bag limits for all waterfowl hunting.
Ducks and geese numbers are beginning to increase in the state, and there is plenty of water for hunters to take advantage. Lakes and backwater areas are full and the colder weather up north is hitting just at the right time.
Limits for this year’s waterfowl season are: Ducks – six combined of any species of duck, but may include no more than five mallards (only 2 can be hens), three wood ducks, two redheads, two canvasbacks, one scaup and one pintail; Geese – eight dark geese (Canada), two white-fronted geese, and 50 light geese (snow, Ross’ and blue).
Hunter’s must possess a valid Oklahoma Hunting license, Oklahoma waterfowl permit, and a Federal Waterfowl stamp. Don’t forget to sign your federal stamp in ink across the face. For more waterfowl regulations and information, consult pages 66-69 of the Oklahoma Hunting Guide.
There’s much to be decided before the Nov. , Zone 2 waterfowl season start, and much work to be done. Blinds, decoys, calls, boats, dogs-all must be in top form by opening morning. It’s no easy task, but nothing worthwhile ever is. In that spirit, here are a few suggestions, or more likely reminders, to help with all the planning and preparations. Surely, you have some preseason rituals of your own to add to our list as well.
The folks at Ducks Unlimited, the champions in waterfowl conservation and hunting, offer these tips to get ready for the upcoming season.
1. Make a Plan for the Season — For many of the key components of our lives, we have a plan. We plan a career, plan our family’s financial stability, and ultimately plan the disposition of our wealth and possessions after we have hopefully moved on to an eternity of autumn winds and cupped wings. Successful duck hunting-certainly a key component of life-also requires a plan. A good one, thoughtfully devised.
Last season is the best starting point for planning this season. If you keep a waterfowling journal, review last duck season objectively. Try to determine which hunting spots produced under what weather conditions. Which spot is best on a storm front, and, conversely, where should you be when the weather is clear and calm? Which option is best when it rains, snows, or freezes?
If you have only one hunting spot, know the conditions under which it is most productive, and resolve to be there on those days. The goal of your preseason planning should be to maximize hunting opportunities as weather and water conditions change.
2. Dust Off Your Duck Call — At the end of last season, your calling never sounded better, and the birds responded as if mesmerized-at least, that’s the way you remember it. To pick up just where you left off last winter, you’ll need some practice prior to opening day.
As a starting point, clean your calls and inspect the reed. If you hunt three or four days a week, consider starting each season with a fresh reed or reed set. Expensive calls should be sent back to the call maker for new reeds. Otherwise, try installing and tuning the new reeds yourself If you intend to buy a new duck call from one of the major mail-order catalogs, place your order as early as possible; a backorder notice holds little value on opening morning.
With your old or new call now tuned to perfection, practice as often as you can prior to duck season. A good approach is to find a place outdoors where you can practice calling at normal volume levels and then tape yourself, comparing your calling to recordings of live ducks.
When you practice, do so with purpose. Don’t just call randomly. Instead, make your practice sessions as realistic as possible by calling as if you are working a flock of ducks. Imagine the birds turning to your highballs, locking up on your greeting calls and feeding chatter, veering off but turning back to a comeback series. Practice with a purpose, and you’ll be more effective on opening day
3. Give Your Shotgun a Checkup — At season’s end, most waterfowlers break out their best gun cleaning supplies-a rag and spray bottle of gun oil-and treat their loyal duck guns to a good rub down before retiring them to the cabinet. By the end of duck season, however, most shotguns have endured considerable abuse and are due for a serious checkup.
A first step, of course, is a thorough cleaning. If you have access to a small compressed air tank, use it to blow powder residue and other grime out of the trigger assembly and receiver. Then treat all metal surfaces with a light coating of high-quality gun lubricant. (Some shotguns with complex mechanisms should be fully disassembled and cleaned only by a gunsmith.)
While your shotgun is disassembled, check for excessively worn or damaged parts, and have them replaced by a gunsmith. If your autoloader’s stock spent a considerable amount of time in water last season, ask a gunsmith to check the action spring for rust. A rusty, gummed-up action spring will cause some autoloaders to cycle slowly or malfunction in cold weather.
Lastly, before opening day, double-check to be certain your gun’s factory magazine plug is installed, and if you have had repair work done, test fire your shotgun to verify that it is cycling properly.
4. Hone Your Shooting Skills — Once your shotgun has a clean bill of health, you should put it to good use before the season starts. For duck hunters, sporting clays is a godsend, offering much more realistic targets than either trap or skeet. At many courses, a round of sporting clays or five-stand isn’t cheap, but it makes for an entertaining afternoon with friends and will definitely improve your shooting skills.
If possible, try to shoot sporting clays with your duck gun. Remember, you’re not shooting for a high score here; the idea is simply to get back on target. Also, let the range operator know if you are not an avid sporting clays shooter. Many facilities have different shooting stands at each station for novice, intermediate, and advanced shooters.
5. Touch Up the Rig — When it comes to decoys, duck hunters fall into two categories: those who enjoy repairing and repainting decoys, and those who simply buy new ones to replace the shabby or sinking decoys in their rig at the end of the season. Whichever camp you fall into, now is the time to get your decoys in working order.
If you’re in the “buy new” category, place your order as early as possible; the big catalog companies sometimes sell out of decoys quickly and have trouble getting more in stock.
Hunters who repair and repaint plastic decoys should first remove weathered paint with a stiff brush. Then seal any pellet holes with epoxy, and paint the decoy with a good primer. Herter’s sells decoy paint kits for most species.
In addition, be sure to inspect your existing rig for dry-rotted or frayed anchor lines. With new decoys, buy top quality decoy cord and take care in tying your knots. Some hunters prefer tying the cord to large snap swivels and then attaching them to the keel and anchor. With plastic decoy lines, tie to the keel using a tight double overhand knot, or try the company’s special plastic clips designed for this use.
6. Revive Your Retriever — Hard to imagine that same yellow dog sprawled on your kitchen floor was just months ago an awesome force in the duck marsh. He will be this season, too, with just a little pre-season work.
A primary concern should be getting your pup in peak physical condition. Long walks and lots of water retrieves will help get him toned up. Water work not only serves as excellent exercise, but also keeps your dog enthusiastic about retrieving.
In many states, September seasons for doves, teal, and resident Canada geese offer great early opportunities for your retriever to get back in action. Summer temperatures often prevail well into September, so remember to take plenty of fresh water afield for your dog, and to allow him to cool off in the water or shade occasionally
7. Spruce Up Your Duck Blind — Building a better duck blind is all about having the right perspective-that of a duck in flight rather than your own earthbound view. Think back over last season. If circling ducks frequently appeared to shy away from your blind, you may want to make some changes.
If, for instance, birds often landed wide of your blind, maybe you should rethink your brushing strategy, modify the width of the shooting box, lower the overall height of the blind, or possibly even relocate it. Now is the time to decide what, if any, changes should be made, and to get on with the work.
If you hunt from a boat blind, be sure to inspect the camouflage panels for damage, leaving enough time before opening day to purchase new ones. If stored properly after each duck season, these camo panels should provide many years of use.
8. Get in a Duck Hunting State of Mind — As the hot summer days grow a little shorter, a subtle crispness in the night air pushes your thoughts northward-to the pothole country. You imagine mallards by the thousands feeding in the grain fields, fattening up for the journey soon to come.
It seems an eternity ago when you watched the sun set on another duck season, but now the dawn of a new one is close at hand. And, just like last year, you’re thankful to be a part of this again, waiting on the first cold fronts, anticipating the first flock-wings cupped, greenheads colorful as autumn-dropping into the decoys.
Slowly, you are returning to a duck hunting state of mind. If you take these tips to heart and start now, you will be ready when the first drake mallards of the season make their appearance.
HIP survey needed for waterfowl
All migratory game bird hunters, including lifetime license holders, who hunt migratory birds, must obtain, complete and carry a Harvest Information Program (HIP) permit while hunting migratory birds. Additionally, anyone hunting sandhill cranes is also required to obtain a Sandhill Crane Permit (SHC).
Both of these permits are federal permits, free of charge, and can be obtained on the ODWC app.
These permits provide a method by which the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) obtain the names and addresses of all migratory game bird hunters required to obtain the permits. From these lists, a sample of Oklahoma hunters are sent a federal harvest survey questionnaire so that reliable estimates of the number of all migratory birds harvested in the state and throughout the country are possible. These estimates give biologists the information they need to make sound decisions concerning hunting seasons, bag limits, and population management.
Without good estimates of the harvest of migratory game birds, continuation of hunting seasons on these species is jeopardized. Scientifically sound and defensible estimates of harvest are essential to maintain harvest opportunity for the future.
Hunters under 16 years of age, senior citizens (age 64 or older or those who turn 64 during the calendar year in which they intend to hunt migratory birds) and landowners hunting only on their own property are exempt from the HIP permit requirements.
All sandhill crane hunters must obtain the SHC permit, no exemptions.