Can you hunt ducks with a bow? Duck and waterfowl can indeed be hunted with a bow, but the specifications of legalization thereof are determined by each State and in some cases even each county. Therefore, you should familiarize yourself with what is legal for hunting ducks in the county/State where you are planning to hunt.
In New Jersey, for example, the specifications are: “Arrows fitted with heads other than specified for deer, bear, turkey, coyote, fox or woodchuck may be carried in the woods and fields during the small game season or other seasons which overlap with the bow and arrow deer season except that for taking game birds in flight, arrows equipped with an edged head are prohibited. Furthermore, flu flu arrows are required for taking game birds in flight because the arrow is designed to fly only a short distance. For the purpose of discharging a crossbow, hunters may carry judo points, target points or blunts. Canada geese and turkeys which are not in flight may be taken with standard fletched arrows and an edged head as described above.”
In Michigan bows and arrows, including crossbows, are legal for waterfowl hunting.
Detailed information on each State’s laws regarding hunting duck with a bow, can be found here.
When comparing a shotgun to a crossbow for hunting duck you should keep the following in mind:
- Rifles are longer-range weapons, while shotguns and bows are close range weapons.
- Shotguns are most suitable for animals on the move because they shoot a spread of pellets.
- In contrast to this, a rifle and bow shoot single projectiles and you would have to hit the animal in exactly the right spot in order to kill it quickly. This makes hunting ducks with a bow and arrow rather challenging as it is easier done with stationary animals.
- Although it is legal in some states to shoot a bird in flight with a bow, it might be extremely challenging for an inexperienced archer, especially if you want to make a meal of it.
- You need lots of patience when approaching small targets in motion with a bow and arrow as it is psychologically and technically challenging.
Methods for bowhunting Ducks
There are three methods to use when bowhunting waterfowl; jump shooting, pass shooting and decoying.
However, jump shooting is the most productive methods for the smaller, faster flying, harder-to-hit, ducks. According to experienced hunters jump shooting is extremely rewarding as it adds an exciting new dimension to your bow hunt.
Apart from preparing your bow and arrow, you should also prepare yourself by obtaining the right gear, meaning the appropriate camouflage for the area/terrain where you are going to hunt.
In addition to this, you may choose to wear black when inside a black-backed ground blind. It will eliminate the flash from within the blind and that is usually what scares off the ducks.
Then, of course, you have to find the ducks. This simply means that you will do some scouting. Your main objective for scouting is to find the feeding areas of the ducks and the places where they loaf around, as those are the preferable places to shoot your duck. Also look out for the traffic way, since that is where they will be flying from place to place, making them very visible. You might have to do some driving around and watch for fields and waterways where ducks are. You will also find their roost where they sleep at night.
However, there is a big “but” when it comes to the roost. Experienced hunters will tell you “not to hunt the roost unless you want all of the ducks to find a different roost.”
While you are scouting, make mental pictures of their body postures and how they move and feed. This will inevitably help you build more realistic decoy spreads.
You might also want to pay attention to their vocalizations such as whistles, blats, peeps, and burrs as you will need to replicate those while hunting.
In addition to your gear and scouting, preparation for your duck hunting trip might start much earlier in the year, in fact, it might be a year-round project.
Experienced hunters say waterfowl hunting is a lifestyle, so the best you can do is to be physically prepared for it, all year round.
To learn more about bow hunting, check out this article about how to start bow hunting.
Be sure to include the following in your preparation:
- Cardio exercises – these are important as they replicate some of the physical stress you will undergo during the hunting season.
- Weights – use weight training to prepare yourself for carrying heavy decoy bags and field blinds. Having strength will also give you an advantage when it comes to straightening and tightening a multiple-decoy line in rough water.
- Diet – Expert hunters say that sensible eating habits and keeping your weight realistic before the season will help you hunt longer and more efficiently;
- Eat smaller portions and include more natural foods, such as green vegetables, fresh fruits, and lean meats and fish.
- Limit your sugar and processed food intake.
- Eating healthy without carrying extra weight, will help your body deal with the stress of the duck hunting season.
Setting up the ultimate decoy spread might just be the most important aspect to set yourself apart from other hunters.
Your main goal should be setting a spread that will convince even the most cautious bird. And this is exactly what will distinguish you from the other hunters. Ducks may become warier towards the end of the season, so you might have to adapt your decoys as the season progresses.
What can you do to set you apart from other hunters?
- Visibility – Most hunters will tell you that you need not set every decoy spread in a primary feeding or resting area.
For example, when hunting on windy days or even on flight days when large numbers of birds are on the move, it might be a successful move to set a good spread in an area where ducks will see it.
Place your decoys out in the open so that they are visible from the air. When you set up, make sure that the wind is not in your face, as waterfowl lands into the wind. You do not want your ducks to come in from behind you.
- Dealing with ice – Ice might be one of the toughest challenges a duck hunter can face when setting up decoys. One way of solving the problem of thick ice is to break it up into large free-floating sheets and then shove them under the surrounding ice. This will create an ideal open hole for you to put your decoys in.
On the other hand, when dealing with skim ice, your best option might be to purchase an ice eliminator. Not only does it help keep your spread clear of ice, but it also adds movement to your decoys.
- Realistic decoys and spreads – although realistic decoys come with a higher price tag, you might at least consider buying the best you can afford. The more realistic it looks, the more successful your hunt will be.
- Decoy species – the most prominent species in puddle duck spreads, are mallards. In their natural habitat, most other species intermingles with them, and therefore your mallard decoys might easily attract pintails, gadwalls, and widgeons.
If you want to add even more realism to your mallard spread, you could include pintail drakes and black ducks. If you include these species in an area where they exist naturally, it will greatly enhance your spread’s drawing power.
- Size – decoys come in standard, magnum, and super magnum sizes. Since it all comes down to visibility, your first choice might be to go for the bigger decoys. They are, after all, more noticeable, especially at long distances.
The only disadvantage is that they are heavier and bulkier which makes transportation as well as carrying them a difficult task.
- Decoy materials – hollow plastic decoys are most readily available on the market. They are molded from thermoplastic resin and although they are somewhat expensive, they are lightweight and tough.
Apart from being expensive, they are vulnerable to stray shot and therefore a misdirected pellet can cause a leak which will cause the decoy to sink if not repaired.
Solid foam molded decoys, on the other hand, are almost indestructible and are not affected by shot, yet they are both heavy and expensive.
Some traditional hunters still prefer wood or especially cork decoys because they ride well in water. However, on the downside, they are heavy, extremely pricey and pale in performance when compared to plastic and solid foam decoys.
- Solid keel or water keel – when it comes to floating decoys we can differentiate between solid keels and water keels.
Solid keels are more convenient to use than water keels. The main difference is that water keels are hollow and fill with water for balance when they are set out whereas solid keels are sealed with weight inside.
In addition to this, solid keels will roll upright when they are tossed out, but they are heavier and more expensive than water keel decoys.
As we can expect, water keel decoys are not self-righting. It can, therefore, become quite a time-consuming exercise as they have to be set on the water right side up, allowing the keel to start filling up with water. Additionally, a hunter has to drain water keel decoys each time they are picked up.
- Decoy location – almost every duck hunter has his own recipe or opinion for successful placement of decoys. But one thing they all agree on is that you should make provision for an open spot among your decoys to leave space for the incoming birds to land.
A popular way to achieve this is to place your decoys in a “C” or a “J” formation, making sure that the open side is facing downwind.
Another way of structuring your decoys is to place a few (three to four) clumps consisting of two or three decoys each, to the right in front of the blind and the same amount to the left. This leaves an adequate area of open water in the middle in front of the blind.
- Specialty decoys – two specialty decoys available on the market are soft foam decoys and inflatables. Inflatables, as the name suggests, can either be blown up by the hunter or, by using trapped air, they can self-inflate when dropped into the water.
Soft foam decoys, on the other hand, consist of shell bodies and heads that insert into holes at the neck. Both are extremely lightweight and compact so quite a number of them will fit into your backpack. They also add movement to the lightest available breeze.
The only downsides are that they look less realistic than standard decoys, plus they require more time and effort to blow up and to fit the heads to the bodies. Apart from this, they still make excellent decoys in quiet backwaters, beaver ponds, and sloughs.
How many decoys should you use in a spread?
There is no quick answer to this since several factors will determine the number of decoys to use:
- The type of water where you hunt (for example, a small pothole, a large lake or river);
- Whether the spread will be left out or taken up daily;
- How you will be transporting your portable spread i.e., backpack or boat;
- How much you can afford to spend;
In larger waters or dry fields you can never put out too many decoys, so use your imagination and go wild. In confined or smaller waters a good number of decoys is approximately 36.
Of course, when you are a walk-in hunter you might not be able to carry more than 18 standards, rigged decoys in your backpack.
Adam Brassfield explains that if you have to build a make-shift blind on the fly, you start with putting together your base using netting or fast grass. You can check out the video on YouTube here. Tie it between two sticks or poles then use whatever is available in the vicinity to camouflage your netting. It is crucial that you make use of what the terrain offers in order to blend in – grass, trees, leaves, debris, mud etc.
Another highly successful duck blind is illustrated by Jason Cruise. It is built on the shore/edge of the river and is extremely effective for duck hunting. You can check out the video on YouTube here.
Building a hide or blind for duck hunting with a bow is a more challenging task than building one for shooting with a shotgun. The reason being, that you have to make provision for a little more room for the bow limbs and arrow shafts. This will inevitably direct you to make special arrangements instead of merely building a standard duck hide.
An easy way to solve this problem is to set up your hide in the natural area where ducks feed, roost and rest. Just remember that, as explained previously, it is not ideal to shooting the roost.
It is a well-known fact that ducks are wary birds, they have excellent eyesight and can spot the slightest movement. In addition to this, they will instantly notice anything that looks out of place in the area.
For this reason, you would want your hide or blind to blend in with the environment. Anything will work, grass, limbs or brush. Make sure that you use this to soften outlines and corners as you certainly do not want a box-effect.