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Waterfowling on a Budget at Cabela's

Waterfowling on a Budget

Author: Curt Hicken

In nearly every state, waterfowl hunters can find a number of excellent public hunting areas including state and federal recreation areas where duck and goose hunting is every bit as good as that offered at most private hunting clubs.

Waterfowling on public land requires planning and a lot of dedication.
In nearly every state, waterfowl hunters can find a number of excellent public areas where you can enjoy waterfowl hunting without blowing your budget.

There are those who feel waterfowl hunting has become a sport for the wealthy.

Just the expense of purchasing a hunting license, federal and state waterfowl stamps and box of non-toxic shotshells is enough to make any typical waterfowler shudder.

However, if you include membership in one of the many exclusive waterfowl hunting clubs found throughout the nation, a duck or goose hunting trip becomes a potential episode for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Still, in areas where the tradition of waterfowl hunting has become a way of life, there are always those innovative hunters who seem to be able to find an affordable way to enjoy their favorite sport. All it takes is a little creative research and you can also enjoy quality waterfowl hunting without damaging your budget.

In nearly every state, waterfowl hunters can find a number of excellent public hunting areas including state and federal recreation areas where duck and goose hunting is every bit as good as that offered at most private hunting clubs.

Some sites may require a boat to reach the best hunting areas. At others, all that's required is a pair of waders and a dozen decoys to experience a successful and enjoyable waterfowl hunt.

Though a hunting license, stamps and waterfowl loads are still a necessity, the resourceful waterfowler can find numerous inexpensive opportunities and places to hunt ducks and geese close to their homes. In many cases, the only expense is the fuel required to drive to one of these highly productive areas.

Veteran Illinois waterfowler, Larry Reid, has spent a lifetime pursuing ducks and geese throughout the Midwest. During his nearly four decades of waterfowling, Reid has hunted ducks at exclusive private clubs along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and geese at nearly every private commercial hunting club in southern Illinois.

But, he still prefers to do most of his waterfowling on areas generally open to public hunting. These are sites where hunting opportunities are available to every waterfowler in the state.

"In recent years, it has become more difficult to find quality waterfowl hunting areas," admitted Reid. "However, the opportunities are still there for dedicated duck hunters who pursue this fabulous sport."

Throughout the years, he has witnessed a general change in waterfowl migration patterns. This has been especially true in the southern part of the state where huge lakes now occupy areas that were once rich river bottomlands.

Even on public land, ducks decoy well.
In addition, areas once offering Illinois' finest waterfowl hunting have felt the impact of encroachment and siltation. He feels this may also have played some role in this change in migration patterns.

"I suspect that Illinois is not the only state suffering from these problems," he added. "And, that doesn't mean that good public hunting areas are no longer available."

Interestingly, areas that were once known to offer only marginal waterfowl hunting success now rate among the finest areas.

"In Illinois, it seems the relatively new impoundments like Shelbyville, Rend and Carlyle lakes have brought about this change in migration patterns," he explained. "Now, they offer waterfowlers exceptional opportunities for duck and goose hunting."

The greatest reason behind Reid's duck hunting success is his ability to adapt to the changing conditions. He often devotes more time scouting areas for ducks than most archery hunters spend preparing for the deer season.

"The same holds true for virtually every public waterfowl hunting area in the nation," he explained. "You need to know what areas are the most productive, then try and capitalize on this situation."

According to waterfowl experts, the nation's waterfowlers are again looking at an optimistic hunting forecast. But, as recent years have proven, the forecast means little until the birds actually arrive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual breeding survey of key waterfowl nesting areas indicated 41.8 million breeding ducks for 2000, compared with a record-high 43.4 million in 1999. The fall flight of ducks is projected to be about 90 million birds, compared with a record-setting 105 million birds in 1999.

Green-winged and blue-winged teal breeding population estimates of 3.2 million and 7.4 million birds, respectively, were both records since surveys began in 1955.

The 2000 mid-continent mallard breeding population estimate is a little over 8% smaller than last year. The mid-continent mallard fall flight is estimated to be about 2.2 million birds less than last year. Canada and snow geese populations, for the most part, also appear to be in excellent shape.

Still, as many veteran hunters realize, the numbers mean little unless some of these birds appear over decoy spreads. If the migrating birds stop by for a visit, hunters should experience an excellent season.

But where do you go to get in on this action? Public hunting areas are in virtually every state throughout the nation. And, best of all, hunting is free at most of these areas.

Cashing in on these opportunities requires only a little time spent in research. Contacting any state Department of Natural Resources office can often get you well on your way.

Even better, however, is a call to a local or regional wildlife biologist. These folks often know the best areas in a specific region of the state, as well as specific rules and regulations regarding these sites.

You can also find a wealth of information at websites like this one. Many local waterfowl hunters are willing to share information regarding top public hunting areas.

The opportunities are plentiful and the time is now to dust off your decoys and practice your calling. The waterfowl seasons will soon be upon us.