You and your hunting buddies are sitting around the campfire, or maybe the bar, and someone suggests hitting the road next waterfowl season and going on a trip. The thought of hiring a guide doesn’t interest the group, and when everyone considers how much gear they could contribute, it is clear you guys have more than enough. This will be easy right? Drive somewhere known for holding waterfowl, scout, and go out and hunt. Is that it? Seems easy enough!
Freelance waterfowl hunting can be exciting and rewarding, but do not be fooled. Freelancing is challenging and certainly requires more effort than other styles of hunting. This article helps freelancers plan for their trip when it comes to travelling, gear, and other aspects of the hunt.
Deciding where to go
Before hitting the road, it is important to decide which state (or country) you are going to, and which areas you plan to target. By doing this, you can reserve a hotel room or campground, as well as begin doing research on the area and where you may think birds might be located.
Recently, there have been reports of hunters having a difficult time getting permission in parts of the United States and Canada. Do your research and talk to other hunters. If you know it will be difficult to get on birds because you cannot get permission, plan on going to a different location.
Popular freelance waterfowl hunting destinations
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Plan on driving
Just like death and taxes are certain, driving is certain on a freelance waterfowl hunting trip. You will be driving to the destination, scouting for birds, and then driving back home, all in just a matter of days. Therefore, a significant amount of your budget for the trip should be for gas. Also, it is important to have a reliable truck you can count on. Nothing can ruin a hunting trip like breaking down in the middle of nowhere.
If you are able, many hunters take a smaller car in addition to a truck on their freelance waterfowl hunting trip. By doing this, they can cut down on fuel costs, and look less suspicious to other hunters when scouting birds on backroads. Plus, how cool is a picture of a limit of greenheads on top of a Ford Taurus?
Packing the right gear on a freelance waterfowl hunt can make the difference between a good and bad outing. Remember, you will be traveling and setting up in a new location each day. Therefore being mobile, packing lightly, and having durable gear is necessary. Below are pieces of equipment hunters should bring on a freelance waterfowl hunting trip.
Decoys, blinds, dog boxes, and many other pieces of equipment will be required to have a successful freelance hunt. By taking an enclosed trailer you can haul all your gear and keep it dry, all while maintaining enough space in your vehicle for you hunting buddies. Yes, hauling a trailer will increase your fuel expense and be difficult to drive wet fields, but if you can get your hands on one, it will pay off.
If you choose to not bring a trailer and just use the bed of your pickup that is fine. It will be cheaper and less of a hassle at times, but you will not be able to take as much gear. Also, if you run into any weather, your gear could become wet or covered in snow, which could make it useless.
Just like any style of waterfowl hunting, there is not one particular decoy setup that will guarantee success. That said, there are certain types of decoys that work best when you are freelance hunting. Once you determine where you will be hunting and the species around the area, you should consider which decoys to pack. For example, hunters that freelance in Canada should pack silhouettes, wind socks, and maybe some full bodies. Therefore, they can decoy ducks, Canada geese, snow geese, and sandhills.
Regardless of which area you are hunting or the species you are after, being mobile and packing lightly is a must. Again, you will most likely be setting up and picking up your decoy spread each day. In more recent years, hunters have relied more on silhouettes and wind socks while freelancing, all while maintaining success while out hunting.
Other necessary equipment
Depending on how many people are hunting with you, where you are at, and many other circumstances, you should consider taking the equipment listed below when freelancing for waterfowl. This list is not comprehensive, but each piece could increase your odds of success and make for a better trip if you can bring it.
- Layout or A-frame blinds
- ATV/UTV (to drive in fields)
- Waterproof apparel
- An extra shotgun
- Toolbox (in case of a breakdown)
- Plat map of the area
Perhaps the most important element of freelance waterfowl hunting is getting permission. Going and knocking on farmers’ doors and making phone calls is the name of the game. If you can get your hands on an updated plat map of the area, you will give yourself advantage over other hunters. Also, modern technology has made this easier and there are several apps you can download on your phone that inform you of who owns what land. See them below.
Once you get permission on an area, be sure to thank the farmer or landowner before or after the hunt. One way you can show your appreciation and maybe get permission in the future is by bringing them meat from what you harvested or sending them a thank you. Getting permission seems to become more challenging each year. Do not be a hunter that ruins it for others by tearing up fields or leaving trash behind. Listen to the landowner and follow their guidelines.
Water vs. field hunting
Once you decide which area you are going to, you can determine the types of setups you will most likely be hunting. Today, most hunters take advantage of birds feeding in fields when they are freelancing. By hunting in fields, hunters can bring more packable and light gear, which requires less effort and creates more flexibility, all while maintaining a high level of success. If you choose to primarily hunt over water while freelancing, be prepared to pack floater decoys and other necessary equipment.
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