If there’s a conversation that dominates duck camp late each night over that last cup of coffee, it just might be the topic of how to finish ducks.
Like our endless discussions on how to find the proverbial X where ducks want to land, duck hunters are always searching for the magic bullet in regards to finishing off a flock of ducks working over a spread.
Finishing them off as in getting them to backpedal right into the center of the decoy spread hole and “talking them into giving up” as Jim Ronquest of RNT-V often says.
Ronquest, director of public relations for Rich-n-Tone Duck Calls in Stuttgart, Ark., has given a lot of thought to this topic over the years.
But unlike many of us, the Sportsman Channel television personality has been able to get out there and hunt enough to put some hard-core evidence to his flooded timber hunting ideas.
“When it comes to finishing ducks, it’s important to understand that every bunch is different,” said Ronquest, the 2006 world duck calling champ.
“One big thing is to learn to watch their body language,” he added. “When you start working a bunch of ducks, oftentimes, they’ll be coming in all pretty and then they hit that invisible wall at about 75 or 80 yards and start circling.”
Which is when reading their body language comes into play.
“If they’re flying with their butts down a little bit, then you’ll still probably get them,” said Ronquest. “But if they level out, or get higher on the next pass, well, every once in a while, you’ll get them back, but the odds are not good.”
When Ronquest says to watch their body language, as much as anything he means to watch the heads and wings of a group of ducks.
“When you hit a lick on the call and they start looking and craning their heads with their butts down and with slower wing beats, then you’ve got a chance,” he said.
While he’ll call at the bigger bunches like the rest of us will, when it comes to finishing off ducks, Ronquest said it’s tough to beat singles, pairs and small bunches.
“Yeah, those little bunches, I like ’em,” said Ronquest. “And in the same way, if you see a drake and a hen come around, hit a hard lick and if they come to you, don’t do anything else, just let them come to you.
“But if they start to slide off, do something to initiate a positive reaction in their flight pattern,” he added. “Be careful, but do some quacking, some chattering and give them a light greeting.
“By and large, it’s just easier to work pairs and singles. They are just easier to read and work than a big bunch. And it’s easier to shoot them when they get right than it is a big bunch with birds going everywhere.”
According to Ronquest – Jimbo as many know him – when it comes to finishing ducks over the spread, there’s a fine line between calling too much and not enough.
That’s especially true when there are multiple callers involved.
“You need to have everybody on the same page and you might not want everybody calling because you don’t want to blow them out,” said Ronquest.
“Everybody loves to blow a duck call and that’s part of the fun and part of why we build duck calls. But there’s a time to pour it on and there are days to lay off and there are days in between.
“Every day is different and you’ve got to read the ducks and respond accordingly.”
And sometimes, that means not calling much at all.
“I will screw them up sometimes (myself),” said Ronquest. “You see that pair of ducks already sailing your way. You’ve been pulling on that jerk cord, and you look up, and there they are.
“Sometimes, the worst thing that you can do is to pick up that duck call and start calling,” he added.
“If they start to veer off, then sure, hit them a lick and give some chatter, but a lot of times, we’ call too much, whether it’s on a pair, five or six or a big wad.”
In the end, Ronquest says duck hunters learn to finish ducks off by feel and experience as much as anything.
In short, it’s due to time spent in the woods and learning what not to do as much as it is learning what to do.
“There’s a fine line between blowing just enough and not blowing them out on that last pass,” said Jimbo. “Sometimes, if they’re already coming, you just need to shut up and let them come on in.”
Meaning that when a group of ducks has already given up, why try to talk them into more of the same?
And that’s some sage hunting advice, coming straight from the lanyard of Jim Ronquest, one of the best duck callers anywhere in the world.