Fall in Western New York is a magical time of year, and is truly a sportsmen's paradise. Whether it's hunting from the trees for whitetail, chasing fall turkeys or waterfowl hunting, fall is something to be enjoyed by all sportsmen.
For those us that live in the Western Zone, we are fortunate enough to have a great opportunity to harvest multiple duck and geese during the regular season. To not take advantage of this opportunity would almost be a crime against nature.
Fall waterfowl hunting is exciting and a great break from swinging from the trees. The thought of sitting in a blind at O'dark thirty and watching the world come alive is hard to explain, but it is something all sportsmen can experience. That is why I have learned to split my time between the woods and the water over the past few years, to chase ducks and geese.
Andy Cusimano is all smiles after catching his first muskie, a 48-incher, which was taken on Chautauqua Lake.
With the liberal seasons and bag limits, this year should be one for the record books.
During the regular goose season - yes we have four goose seasons in Chautauqua County, early, regular, late and spring - goose hunters will enjoy a five bird per day limit. Regular season runs from October 27 to December 11 and late regular season from December 29 to January 16. With these liberal bag limits hunting geese is more than worth the effort.
If you are one that enjoys duck hunting here in Chautauqua County, our season begins October 27 and runs through December 9 for the regular season. Late season begins December 29 and runs through January 13. With a six duck per day limit, the following rules apply: You may include no more than 4 mallards, no more than two can be hens, one black, three woodies, two pintails, two redheads, four scaup, one canvasback, four scoters or two hooded mergansers. Obviously, identifying ducks is very important and it's also important to check out the DEC website or waterfowl handbook before you head into the field.
The best part about all of this is you don't need a lot to get started, but that isn't to say that once you have been bitten by the waterfowl bug you won't be spending a month's salary on guns, decoys, calls and a boat! To get started, however, you only need any gun that is chambered for 3", a small game license, a federal waterfowl stamp, a box of steel shells, a knowledge of bag limits, a few decoys and the season dates.
Chokes are another question new waterfowlers are sometimes baffled about. I have found the best choke for steel is modified and improved modified. This is not to say that skeet or cylinder chokes wouldn't work, but for the majority of the shooting we do around here, modified and improved work best.
Using steel shot is a federal law so don't get caught in the field with anything but. It's a federal crime if you have lead with you while waterfowling. There are other types of non-toxic shot that have been legalized for waterfowl. Bismuth and the new tungsten shot are catching on, but are also very pricey for new waterfowlers. That's why I would strongly suggest that new waterfowlers stick with steel, for cost reasons alone.
A new shot called heavy-steel has made a major impact in the duck and goose blinds across the country. The new heavy-steel shot is made by the same company that makes the heavy shot-shot for major national ammunition manufacturers.
Heavy-Steel is made directly by the original company, and is offered in a couple popular sizes, B and coyote. The B size is perfect for ducks and geese. Although designed for coyote, coyote shot is perfect for high-flying geese.
While these sizes are quite different than the traditional sizes, I have watched first hand while the B size dropped flying birds at 50-plus yard. The coyote shot is so much more exciting. I have watched and dropped high flying geese at 60-plus yards. Advertising for the coyote size states that it will drop a coyote at 100 yards. I know it sounds like Madison Avenue hoopla, but I have witnessed it first hand. The price for a 25 shell box is under $20, and is more than worth the couple extra dollars.
If you plan on jump shooting ponds, then you will want a shot size that will allow you the advantage of fast paced shooting, like number 3's or 4's in steel.
On the other hand, working waterfowl over a decoy spread gives us the opportunity to take more time for that perfect shot. That's why I prefer steel 2's and 3's for blind hunting over decoy spreads.
The use of duck calls is an art form that takes years and often a lifetime to perfect. Don't let this statement discourage you. Watch a duck caller work a group of birds into range, and the patience and time it takes to do it right.
For the majority of the fall waterfowl hunting we will be doing here in the Southern Tier, basic feeding and come back calls work well most of the time.
Waterfowl identification is another vital fact we need to learn before heading to the water. Knowing the difference between a male mallard and a female wood duck is important, for bag limit reasons.
That is where a good pair of binoculars comes in handy. Hawke Sport Optics offers several good choices, but I recently had the opportunity to try the Frontier ED model. They are perfect for on the water or in the woods. The Frontier ED offers a traditional magnesium light weight waterproof body design and extra-low dispersion glass for super performance and clear high resolution viewing. From the padded strap to fog proof optics, the Frontier ED is a must need for any serious hunter.
Decoying is an art form in and of itself. I use the theory that when working small bodies of water, use small spreads. Most of the ducks we hunt here are local birds that fly in small flocks of 6-10 birds. These smaller flocks often shy away from larger spreads.
With the whitetail rut just around the corner, next week we will look at some ideas that might make you all the more successful.