Duck Hunting With J.R. Keller

EDITOR'S NOTE: Master Western hunter J.R. Keller of Delta, Colorado, a member of Hunter's Specialties' Hunt Team, is one of the most-versatile hunters in the U.S.

QUESTION: What kind of weather conditions do you need for successful duck hunting?
ANSWER: To experience duck-hunting success out West in Colorado, we need extremely-cold weather from the North to drive the waterfowl down to us. However, too much cold weather up North will cause problems. Recently, the cold weather in South Dakota pushed ducks down to us, but we also ended up with 8 inches of snow. The ducks flew right through our area because the snow had covered up most of their food.

QUESTION: Does cold, rainy weather help duck hunting?
ANSWER: Rainy weather doesn't help, but cold weather seems to produce more ducks. Adequate amounts of snow help as well, but blizzard conditions can detrimentally affect your hunting. Too, during extremely-frigid weather, many ponds will freeze. Since ducks concentrate on moving or open water, you have to locate bodies of water that haven't iced-over. In Colorado, we generally hunt smaller rivers that have a good flow. So basically, when the ponds and open water freeze around here, the ducks don't have any place to go except these faster-moving rivers.

To hunt successfully, look for locations with open water. Too, don't fear changing hunting locations. If you don't experience success in one place, move to another. If you see birds in another location, pick up your decoys and move to that other region where you can have more success. Go to the waterfowl rather than wait for them to come to you.

QUESTION: In the West, do you have to worry about trespassing on someone else's property when you're hunting?
ANSWER: You always have to be careful not to trespass on someone else's property -- no matter where you hunt. You need to have a topo map and know the areas you're hunting so you don't accidentally roam onto private lands. Fortunately, we have a large amount of public land here in Colorado to hunt.

QUESTION: Can you move more freely out West than in the East without crossing onto private land?
ANSWER: Yes, we have more land in general to cover, whether we're hunting turkeys, elk or ducks.

QUESTION: What types of sites do you hunt when you duck hunt?
ANSWER: I usually hunt river channels with good flow. I'll also look for some slower-moving channels with eddies and sandbars where ducks will flock. Then, I'll use the forage around me to build a makeshift blind so I can get in closer to that river to hunt over my decoys.

QUESTION: What kind of decoys do you use?
ANSWER: I like to use a mixture of decoys, but out here I mostly use mallards with a few pintails.

QUESTION: How do you set out the decoys on rivers?
ANSWER: I like to set them out in two big wads and leave an opening in the middle where the ducks can land. I'll put a dozen decoys on one end and a dozen on the other, and I'll hunt right over that open area. Too, when hunting big-river channels, I like to put my duck and geese decoys together. I'll position my geese decoys in a straight line, depending on which way the wind blows. Then, I'll mix in a group of duck decoys with the goose decoys and fan them out so they trickle down to hardly any. You'll notice that ducks will like to land in that big concentration of decoys.

QUESTION: What calls do you use?
ANSWER: I like to blow a single-reed duck call. We manufacture double-reed duck calls and single-reed duck calls, but I like to use single-reed calls for sheer volume. We do a lot of hail calling. We have a signature duck call out right now for around $25.

QUESTION: What signature?
ANSWER: A Buck Gardner Signature Series duck call.

QUESTION: Why do you like the single reed?
ANSWER: I get a lot more volume out of a single-reed call. We do a lot of hail calling out here because we hunt a lot of open water and open areas. So you want something that will give off a louder sound. I can get a lot more volume on a single-reed call than I can off a double-reed call. The hail will get the attention of those ducks to bring them to you. We have a new call called the Double Nasty. We actually put a cork on the end of this double-reed call. With this call, you can sound like several different ducks. You can put your finger over that hole for a higher-pitch sound. You can take your finger off that hole to tone it down and give it that raspier call to sound like multiple ducks.

I do a lot of team calling. I'll have maybe two or three guys in a blind with me. The more callers I have with me, the better chance I have to get the ducks' attention and work them. One of the big advantages of having more than one caller in the blind is if I give the hail call and begin to run out of air to blow the call, my buddy next to me can hail on his call and keep the ducks' attention.