You might find a group of black ducks feed on the open surface of Cobbossee Stream in Manchester, or it might be time to head for the coast for that late-season hunt. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

With deer seasons over or winding down, it’s time to switch things up a little. Some folks will hang up the guns and break out the ice fishing tackle but there are a few bold lads and lasses still willing to weather winter’s cold pursuing wary waterfowl. Southern Zone hunters have until Christmas and the Coastal Zone remains open into January so there’s still plenty of time to fetch some festive fowl.

The Northern Zone is closed, but so are most of the wetlands and waterbodies there. Open water takes on more importance, and increases in availability the further south and east you go. The first places to freeze over are the shallow marshes and small ponds, but an inlet or outlet might still have enough open water to attract ducks, and with fewer alternatives, increases in attractiveness.

Much to the chagrin of eager ice anglers, larger lakes remain open, particularly the parts exposed to prevailing winds. A little scouting might help in finding shallow bays and coves where waterfowl can still find food or shelter. Deeper areas might hold divers and even a few stray sea ducks. Waterways remain open later as well, and the ones with shallow pools and eddies can be duck magnets.

If all else fails head to the coast, like many ducks do. Brackish water won’t freeze as fast and provides late migrants and over-wintering birds with a place to feed and loaf, sometimes right through the winter. I grew up hunting coastal marshes and one of my favorite tactics was jump-shooting salt pannes and tidal ditches in December.

The biologists will tell you that Canadian red legs are a myth. Yet every year, around the first week of December the coastal marshes would start filling up with plump black ducks that sported brighter orange landing gear, and seemed less familiar with their surroundings than the slim, pale-footed residents.

Now is also prime time for sea ducks. Most of the scoters are gone but numbers of eiders and long-tailed ducks, which will remain all winter, continue to climb with the cold. Those equipped and experienced know the drill. For the newbies, be prepared. There are those rare December days when the ocean is flat as a mill pond but they are the exception. Even then, cold is a factor, and becomes more so when it’s rough. The reward is some hot-barreled action if the birds are working.

Though they may be pushed into smaller and tighter pockets, winter waterfowl are no pushovers. They’ve been pursued for several months and are at their wariest. That calls for redoubling your efforts and camouflage concealment, and perhaps easing up on the calling. You might want to add more decoys, and a little motion in your spread makes it even more enticing.

Switching to larger loads is also advisable. Ducks and geese now sport a flak vest of feathers and down that might absorb or deflect lighter loads, especially steel pellets. Shots may be a bit longer, too, which reduces kinetic energy. It’s also more important to keep your guns and gear dry, as ice can jam up actions and shorten your day. Extra consideration should also be given to keeping your dogs and yourself warm. It’s supposed to be fun.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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