If warm weather is when you like to hunt, then don't read on because late December and early January in the land of 6-foot snow banks can be challenging.
Western New York zone waterfowler's are offered a late season duck hunting starting Dec. 29 and running until Jan. 13 for ducks. The WNY late season offers hunters a different type of shooting opportunity. Unless the water temperature has kept lakes and ponds open, waterfowlers are going to be hunting rivers or Lake Ontario.
Some of the most exciting waterfowl action I get every year is a Niagara-County version of cast and blast. I generally take the week between Christmas and New Years and travel to spend time with long-time lower Niagara River guide Captain Frank Campbell. Campbell is not only an excellent fishing guide, but also during the season he offers clients the opportunity to take part in some fast-pace sea duck action on Lake Ontario. Sea ducks are some of the smallest and fastest ducks on the Atlantic Flyway. Sea ducks fly upwards of 60 mph.Trying to hit these fast-moving targets when you are hunting out of the a 20-foot Lund can be interesting.
The best advice I can offer is lead your target by at least 3 feet.
Campbell can be reached at 284-8546.
Moving west along the Great Lakes, waterfowlers will find that Lake Erie offers some more traditional waterfowl action. When the Big Lake freezes over, Dunkirk Harbor offers some great late-season duck action thanks to the help of the hot-water discharge from the Niagara Mohawk power plant located in Dunkirk Harbor. Access can be gained via boat to the breakwall that guards the harbor.Hunting off the "wall" is a tradition for many Chautauqua County waterfowlers, so getting there early in the morning is important. Once on the "wall,'' small-decoy spreads work best during the late season. Most the birds that will be coming into your spread will be local birds that have been bumped off local streams and ponds.
These local birds have been called to and shot at for the last two months and are very leery of anything out of the ordinary. Most "wall" hunters will put their spreads close to the wall. I prefer to put my spreads out 20 yards. This will bring the birds between you and the decoys.Years of experience have proven to me that late-season birds will not land in the spread, but on the inside if they set their wings at all. Many times they will not even set their wings, but just fly over to check out the new kids in town. That is why I generally let my clients take passing shots because this is often the only shot they are presented.
Moving inland, waterfowlers need to do their homework before heading to a field, such as finding out which bodies of water are still open and which ones are frozen. A sure bet for late-season waterfowlers is floating the many rivers that generally don't freeze over until mid-winter. Conewango Creek is a favorite late-season hot spot. Don't let the name creek fool you, the Conewango is 20 to 30 yards across in spots and ranges in depth from 8 to portage. Divers make their winter home along this free-flowing creek. As with most float trips, decoys and calls are best left at home. Fast-paced action calls for a good set of eyes. Checking the shoreline out as far as you can see will help get you ready for the upcoming action. One of the joys of hunting the Conewango is you always see something different around each bend. Everything from whitetail to turkey to beaver to small game. Farm ponds are an important part of any late-season waterfowlers game plan. There are literally hundreds of farms and swamps that offer some excellent pond-jumping action. When the ponds are ice free, they are some of the best spots to set up a late-season blind. Access to any of the ponds in the Southern Tier can be fairly easy, when permission is asked. Farmers can point out easy access roads that will help you get in without the help of a tow truck.
Small-farm ponds are some of my most favorite. I have around a dozen we hunt regularly and I check year around. These ponds are custom made for late -season action. You to can have this type of arrangement with landowners, it just takes years of trust.
Once a pond is found ice free, I check out topo maps to see if there is any wetland areas around the pond that will hold birds. This type of pond is worth spending some time on.
Setting up on a farm pond often times takes a little work, but is well worth the effort. When scouting a pond, I look for ponds that have points near coves. That is where I set up my spread.
Pond spreads don't have to be large. In fact the most effective pond spreads I set are made up of 10 decoys or less. On a pond set, it's more important to place the decoys in the right spot on the water than having an overwhelming spread. A well-placed spread will do for your success more than just choosing out a couple dozen decoys. On a personal note, when dates and bag limits are discussed on these pages or another non-state issued publication, it's important that as responsible sportsmen that we all double check the information with New York state official publications and/or websites.