Take steps now and it will pay off with better duck hunting
Duck hunters along the Eastern Flyway are blessed with a 60-day season scattered across several months. Diehards take advantage of almost every day to target their winged prizes. And others take as much time as they can get around weekends and holidays in swamps, beaver ponds, rivers, lakes and sometimes in flooded grain fields.
With duck season in the rear-view mirror, many hunters are digging for ways to make next season a better one. We can always find another way to get more ducks on the water and in shooting range.
Ducks and other migratory waterfowl fly several thousand miles each year, migrating through the northern hemisphere. For such a small critter, they can travel enormous distances. But it takes energy to make these long-distance treks — a lot of it. Ducks must find rich food sources along their migration to make these trips successful.
For centuries, ducks have traveled established migratory corridors that have protection, lots of water and plenty of rich food to fuel their trek. Typically, these flyways are along major river systems and coastal areas where most of the food and water is located. Not much has changed in their migratory patterns. But the food banks in these corridors are lacking compared to historical trends because of increased development.
Due to federal and state protections of wetlands and waters of the United States, the Carolinas retain large areas of waterfowl habitat to keep ducks happy while migrating. Yes, more rich food sources can surely benefit waterfowl and keep more ducks within our states during the migration. And when more ducks come to stay, it can make a six-duck limit happen much more quickly.
Be the feed bag
We have dozens of ways to improve waterfowl habitat. But one of the most-important ways to keep ducks satisfied is food availability. More ducks will stick around longer if more rich foods are available. One of the best ways to improve food availability is to create impoundments loaded with high-energy foods like corn, sorghum, millet and other agriculture crops. The best time to begin an impoundment plan is now, regardless of the time of year.
Building an impoundment takes more effort than just digging in the dirt and planting some seeds. Half the effort of is in the planning phase. Landowners must find the best place to build an impoundment. And then they must jump through the legal hoops to make sure they are not breaking any state or federal laws doing so. Site selection is the most-important step.
A dirty job for duck hunters
Finding the best location for an impoundment is the most-important segment of the process. It starts with the dirt. Potential impoundment areas need to have dirt that can both hold water and be drained effectively.
Soils with the ability to hold water are loams, dominated by clay, silt and even some fine sands. Sites dominated by soils that are predominantly fine or coarse sands are incapable of holding water and should be avoided.
While it is important for sites to hold water, they must have the ability to be drained. For nine months, impoundments must be void of standing water to grow crops. Corn, sorghum, millet and chufa cannot grow well under saturated conditions. The root systems require oxygen throughout the growing season. A well-drained to moderately well-drained site is required.
Where’s the water?
Finally, a water source is needed to flood the pond for ducks in the fall and winter. Water can be sourced from a combination of rainfall and nearby ponds or water courses. But the best way to flood a pond is with a well and in-line pump system. With a well, landowners can always have direct access to water that can be used for both irrigation and for flooding.
Planning is critical for creating a duck pond, and the best ponds are built outside of wetland areas. Wetlands and streams are protected by the Clean Water Act of 1972; they can’t be filled or cleared without a federal permit. Federal permits will be issued where the need for fill is justified, and a duck pond is not considered justification for filling wetlands. That leaves the best places to build impoundments outside of wetland areas.
But how does a landowner know if the area is considered a wetland or not? A local U.S. Department of Agriculture office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or a private wetland consultant can determine if the proposed area contains any regulated wetlands or streams. It can take time to determine if an area is a wetland and get it verified by the regulatory agencies. That returns us to the original premise: it takes time to prepare and select the best area for a duck impoundment.
From the planning stages to construction and finally, flooding the crop, impoundments can be a long process. But it can sure be worth it when flocks of ducks make it their home during the migration. For the best results, start planning now for your next duck impoundment.
Patience is required:
In new duck impoundments, the land has experienced a life-altering makeover where dirt has been moved in and out. It is no different than a new food plot or new agriculture field being created from scratch.
Most of the time, the topsoil has been removed, especially when a forested area has been converted to a duck pond, and many of the crucial organic debris and nutrients are missing from the equation. But it does not mean the pond will not grow anything. It will just take some time to get the pond’s soil ready for production and the first year’s crop may not be the best.
As soon as the site is leveled and the soil surface is prepared, the soil amendment process should be started with an initial soil test followed by liming immediately afterwards. Even if the perimeter dikes and the spillways are not yet completed, the soil amendment process should occur immediately.
Through soil amendments and trial-and-error, the field will soon get right to grow a field of gold nuggets for the incoming flights. But patience is key and it may take a few years until the ideal crops are produced.