They work at getting to their blind, setting up a decoy spread and getting settled before the first sliver of light breaks in the east.
Lon Ostrzycki of Lick Skillet has sloshed through freezing water in the pre-dawn darkness for some 30 years to shoot ducks. He has braved the elements, both good and bad to pursue his passion for duck hunting. Ostrzycki’s son, Alan starting tagging along on duck hunts when he was 3 years old.
This father, son duck hunting duo has taken their share of waterfowl over the years. They both are willing to share their secrets and adventures about duck hunting.
Over the years Ostrzycki never entered a duck-calling contest. Some of his friends asked him, but he never did. He did learn how to call ducks and Alan learned as well. Ostrzycki also trained his retrievers. He currently has two Labradors that are his hunting companions, a black Lab named Trap and a yellow Lab named Isabel.
Retrievers are a big part of waterfowl hunting, and they can make the trip and time in the duck blind more enjoyable. The dogs enjoy being outdoors and can offer some entertainment as well. Lon suggests starting out teaching the dog to retrieve. A tennis ball or Frisbee will work fine for the young dogs to fetch and return. Later on you can transition to a duck dummy.
“I will take an old sock and stuff it with duck feathers,” said Ostrzycki. “This will give the scent of the duck to the dog.”
This is important for the dog since once it begins to learn retrieving in the field or water the dog will know to look for a duck. Sometimes a dog may see the bird fall and go after it. But, once the dog arrives at the spot they are looking for a tennis ball. Using a “duck” will help the dog understand what he is looking for in the water.
Ostrzycki said Trap will go under water after a duck. He will hit the water at 100 percent looking for the duck. When he gets close and the duck goes under, Trap will follow after it. Others hunters in the area will cheer on Trap to get the duck.
Answering the call
When Lon was a youth pastor at a local church he would duck hunt about 5 to 6 days a week. Now that he is senior pastor he has scaled back to around 4 days a week. After a duck hunt, Lon is in the office by around noon. Sometimes duty calls, and he may have to skip a day or two.
Duck calling is an art and it is not as much knowing the calls, as knowing when and when not to call. Some duck hunters think the louder the call the more ducks they will bring in.
“Most folks scare ducks away by calling too loud,” said Ostrzycki. “If the ducks flinch, change up your calls and volume.”
He says the hunter should allow the ducks to get in closer and use a quack or soft highball. Ostrzycki also states to get softer on the calling. If a lot of hunters a calling nearby, Lon will barley call and he keeps the volume soft and low.
He uses several different types of calls, like the highball, feeding call and chuckles. Lon says by watching the ducks a hunter can usually tell what type of call will work for that particular day and situation.
Understanding the spread
Another important factor of duck hunting is the use of decoys. And with years of waterfowl experience Lon and Alan have learned a few tricks on setting a decoy spread. The pair of water fowlers will use 60 to 70 decoys at the first of the season. As the season progresses and there are fewer birds coming in they will reduce the number of decoys in their spread.
A majority of the decoys are full body decoys with some silhouettes mixed in the group. Lon advises to leave a hole or space among the decoys for the ducks to land.
“Some hunters will shoot the first duck that comes in,” said Ostrzycki. “Let that first duck come on in and the other ducks will follow.”
Wind direction can be significant in the setup of decoys. Ducks like to land into the wind so it is important to set the blind with the wind at your back, this well help you stay a little warmer also. If the wind is out of the south Ostrzycki sets his decoy spread in a half-moon shape with one or two ducks in the center and he leaves a hole in the spread for the ducks to land.
Early morning sight
Ostrzycki agreed the best sight to see early in the morning is when the ducks are approaching with their feet down and wings cupped for a water landing nearby. This pair has hunted together for years and they have seen ducks fly better on cold days.
“We have taken more ducks under blue skies and bright sun that at other times,” Ostrzycki said. “The thrill of duck hunting is seeing their feet out and their wings back.”
However, he says ducks can see better on cloudy days. It is best to have your blind positioned so when the sun is up, the hunters are in the shade of the blind.
Someone that has waterfowl hunted as long as Ostrzycki, has discovered what types of duck gear works and what doesn’t. He believes you have to invest in quality equipment to stay comfortable. If a duck hunter is cold and wet it will be a miserable hunt. He advises to purchase top notch gear to make duck hunting enjoyable.
Ostrzycki highly recommends neoprene waders with 1,000 to 1,600 grams of Thinsulate and a good quality, proper fitting waterproof coat and Gore-Tex gloves to keep your hands warm and dry. Neoprene waders are warmer and easier to move around in. Lon says the canvas type waders are a waste of money.
At the business end of duck shooting Ostrzycki continues to use three different brands of shotguns. A Benelli Nova, Remington 870 and a Mossberg 835 all have found their way into his duck blind over the years. But, if he had to make a choice it would be the Benelli.
Ostrzycki has experienced firsthand the change from lead shot to steel or non-toxic type shot for waterfowl. A majority of the time he uses steel shot in No. 2 and 3 size for hunting over decoys. Sometimes he might go down to No. 4 size steel for close shots and finish out with a BB or BBB as the final load.
“If a duck hunter is patient and wait on the birds, steel shot will bring down the duck,” Ostrzycki said.
Being out early on a lake or backwater sloughs long before the world around awakens is a time the Ostrzyckis can take in the peacefulness that surrounds them. It is a time to fellowship and to think about the blessings the Creator has given.
“I love it when the day begins to break and God’s creation comes alive,” said Ostrzycki. “You don’t have to kill a duck, just enjoy the outdoors.”
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.