Brian Rucker of Columbia lives for duck season, and he knows that scouting is the surest way to discover the latest duck movements.

Putting in the time to scout is preparation for the moment that all waterfowl hunters wait for, when the ducks are done circling and begin cupping their winds, dropping their feet and drawing the war cry - "Cut 'em, boys!"

That's when Rucker gets paid back, when he and Scout, his yellow Lab, are holding tight in their pop-up blind, waiting for just the right moment for him to shoulder his 12-gauge shotgun and start sending 3-inch loads of shot in the direction of the ducks.

A member of the Ducks Unlimited's Columbia chapter, Rucker has used the same tactics for years to try and fool ducks. Like most waterfowlers in South Carolina, he hunts once or twice a week through the season, and he knows that in order to have a good hunt on Saturday morning on Lake Marion out of Low Falls Landing, he needs to scope out the area on Friday with a pair of binoculars.

"Waterfowl are looking for sanctuary, and when they find it, they will stay put," Rucker said. "I don't want to bump birds EVER out of a resting area, because they are already skittish and may not return - so I use binoculars to watch for bird flight and stay clear of a good spot until Saturday morning.

"I generally only use mallard decoys, and I think a dozen decoys are plenty. Puddle ducks are only going to be in shallow water, and they are going to feed on plants like hydrilla, so if you really bust the ducks in one place, take a minute to notice what they were eating, because even if you don't know what it is, you may recognize it later when considering a future hunting location."

Some examples of natural waterfowl vegetation are smartweed, terra-thump, giant foxtail millet and walter's millet. A new trend in seed planting comes from both the S.C. Waterfowl Association and the National Wild Turkey Federation: planting and flooding chufa to attract waterfowl.

How important is finding a food source?

Jim Clark of Georgetown plants more than 1,000 acres of duck impoundments in the Santee Delta, and he says that before the season ends, that food will be completely gone. His Bordeaux-Clark Group specializes in plantation management, and impoundment manipulation is a year-round job. By the beginning of March, he's draining impoundments, burning off what remains in the fields, and getting busy planting corn, Japanese millet and rice at different times in order to produce various successive crops.

An avid waterfowler who used to live on North Carolina's famed Currituck Sound, Clark rarely hunts these days, although he still knows the tricks of the trade.

"The old Santee Gun Club is now known as the Delta East and Delta West hunt units, and (S.C. Department of Natural Resources) offers wonderful waterfowl experiences for draw hunters on those properties," he said. "Most hunters use the Poleyard Landing on Highway 17 North on the Santee River so they can hunt the river or Intercoastal Waterway to try and cut some ducks. Look for ankle-deep water with very little current, and you have a good place to set up some decoys."

Impoundments in the area gather and hold ducks, most of which are green-winged teal, according to Clark, with widgeon, gadwall and shovelers all mixed in.

SCDNR maintains impoundments at the nearby Tom Yawkey WMA that are not open for hunting, and as many as 10,000 pintails use that refuge as a wintering grounds. With only one pintail per day in the legal bag limit, that many ducks can wreak havoc on planted crops and native vegetation in short order.

"Corn is what these birds are keying on their migration down the entire Atlantic Flyway, simply because it is the most readily available food source," said Clark, who advises using teal and mallard decoys in any spread.

The teal decoys bob and move easily in any breeze, giving the vital impression of movement and life, Clark said.

Bill Short of Columbia likes to hunt over rice or corn; his father introduced him to midlands impoundments more than 10 years ago. A 10-acre pond planted in rice is divided by a small creek that is used to flood the field. This simple impoundment attracts wood ducks, mallards, gadwall and sometimes green-winged teal. The rice field stays flooded through February, gets drained in March and planted in June.

Short has other hunting destinations as well, including a 25-acre corn pond on the Congaree River.

"It's important not to pressure the waterfowl any more than is necessary, so we choose only to hunt this field on Saturday mornings and only then until 10 a.m.," said Short, a Columbia attorney who has been known to pass-shoot wood ducks in local swamps before heading to the office in the morning. "When we cut 'em, we generally have mallards and wood ducks in our bag."

As far as setting up on ducks, Rucker has some definite ideas.

"Natural camo is the best cover when hunting out of a bloat blind, so remember to always keep a handsaw and pruners on board in order to cut some native brush," he said. "I like Max 4 HD camo for my blind but be careful about it looking shiny - anything like that looks a lot better with some mud splattered on it."