It was early in the morning and a group of four of us were ready and sliding our canoes into the James River. It was November, and the river was peaceful, but if we had our way, it wouldn’t be for long. It was nice having the entire ramp to ourselves, it was partly cloudy and no wind. These conditions were going to make the next four hours ideal. Our plan was to take one canoe and run the left bank, while the other was running the right side. With any luck we would be able to jump shoot some wood ducks, mallards and maybe a goose – the best DIY trip for duck hunting Virginia.
The day wasn’t too bad, we had plenty of shots at woodies and I managed to take my first banded bird – a nice canada goose. We were off the river by noon and quickly planning our next river trip. Since then, we are always looking for important section of the James River and other bodies that are critical to waterfowl as they move between agricultural fields etc.
Its no surprise duck hunting Virginia has come down to access, which has continually been getting harder and harder – especially for those hunters looking for a DIY hunt for waterfowl or big game. Private landowners can be reluctant to provide access, and some of the larger bodies of water are tied up by larger outfitters. But hunters just need to be more resourceful and think outside of the box. Here are a few areas to key in on for some great waterfowl hunting and fast paced shooting:
For wood ducks, look at the smaller creeks and backwaters in heavily wooded areas off the major bodies of water. The James River is but one example of this habitat in duck hunting Virginia. There are numerous feeder creeks, islands and splits in the main body that offer prime wood duck hunting. Other ducks will use these areas as well when pressure gets up. Locate them by either floating the rivers and marking them on a GPS, or use topo maps or Google Maps/Earth. Wood ducks especially will enter and exit these areas as the push out to feed. This type of hunting is fast paced, you will most likely hear them with their distinct call long before you see them. Its going to be fast paced pass shooting in tight cover so be ready.
Along many of Virginia’s rivers there are numerous small islands that continually shift and reshape based on the river levels and flooding. The best islands are those that have various back eddies or slow moving flats adjacent to them with trees and shrubs for concealment, and are within 40 to 50 yards of one of the banks. These give you the perfect way to conceal yourself, while the birds have the ability to access the slower moving water, and the opposite river bank ensures that birds wont pass more than 40 to 50 yards away. It can be difficult if the birds are pushing the main river channel and your only option is to try and pull them in. A good set up is typically a hand full of magnum sized decoys, like maybe 3 mallards with one or two floater geese. The reason for this is that we typically observe smaller groups of ducks using these waters in this way, not large flocks of ducks or geese. Drop these decoys in the back eddies and slower water to draw birds in. Be sure that they have plenty of visibility to the decoys, placing them in the tailout of the island is also effective for catching birds flying up river.
You cant talk about duck hunting Virginia without discussing some of the most effective areas, which can be secluded beaver dams and the adjacent flood areas. I can think of two WMA’s in Virginia that have ideal beaver dams that draw wood duck and other puddle ducks in like a magnet. They are secluded and have very little pressure. The key is to get in before sunrise (for WMA’s this can be a problem) and set maybe 4 to 6 decoys for smaller ponds and 8 or so for larger ones. You need to be in, be quiet, and be ready before wood ducks push out at first light. Again this is going to offer some fast paced shooting at first light.