Bill Hartman stayed true to his duck-hunting principles this month: Be mobile and go to where the ducks are. Stay hidden.
And it paid off big time.
If nothing else, Hartman says, that will get you a shot at ducks. He proved it during the Kansas teal season.
He started off Sept. 13 on a private marsh near the Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Kansas. He and his hunting partner, Tom Mais, tossed out a dozen decoys, then melted into the green vegetation at water’s edge.
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Hartman watched as a bluewing sped toward the decoys. He stood, fired one shot and watched as the duck tumbled to the shallow water.
“Perfect percentage; one for one,” Hartman said with a laugh. “I should quit while I’m ahead.”
He did … but not by choice.
The birds quit flying, the gray skies became lifeless and and opening day of the Kansas teal season became far less productive than the hunters had anticipated.
Here’s where the mobile part comes in. Hartman did some scouting, found several flocks of teal on other marshes and went back there in the following days. He shot three bluewings last Sunday evening and another three Tuesday morning.
But his best hunt was still to come. On Wednesday morning, he went to a secluded marsh on the Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge where he had spotted teal on his scouting runs and positioned his muck seat so that he wouldn’t be spotted by the ducks. As the gray lifted, the teal started flying and the shooting started.
In 20 minutes, he had his limit of six teal and he was headed for home.
“That’s why I don’t like hunting out of a blind,” said Hartman, 64, who lives in Emporia, Kan. “A lot of times, I think the ducks can pick out that box. Either that, or if they’ve been around for a while, they’ll learn where the shooting has been coming from and avoid that spot.
“I like to stay mobile. And I usually hunt alone. I just blend in to the vegetation where I’m hunting.”
Hartman dresses in complete camouflage, from thin gloves to a face mask where only his eyes can be seen. He is a stickler for details. What might seem inconsequential to some hunters can make the difference between a successful hunt and an unsuccessful one, Hartman says.
“I’ve seen times when a group of ducks will be coming in and they spot something out of place and they’ll flare,” he said. “It might be a face, the sun hitting a gun that hasn’t been camouflaged or just some movement.”
For Hartman, who has lived in Emporia since 1968, duck hunting is in his blood. He will tell you that some of his relatives were market hunters when it was legal.
“They would shoot ducks and sell them to the Kansas City meat markets,” Hartman said.
Hartman learned to hunt waterfowl at an early age and hasn’t stopped. He leases one piece of land where the owner takes great pride in creating wildlife habitat. He and Hartman pump water into marshes, they put out food plots for the deer and they manage edge areas to provide habitat for quail.
“This is a hunting paradise,” Hartman said. “I’ve taken many limits of ducks here.”
But Hartman’s waders don’t stay in their footprints for long. If the ducks aren’t flying, he has many other options.
He has other duck leases. And he knows the Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge like the back of his hand. He will ramble down country roads and find all kinds of potholes and hidden spots on the refuge that hold ducks and are open to public hunting.
“On weekdays during the duck season, nobody’s here,” he said. “I’ll just drive from spot to spot until I find the ducks.”
To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.