Duck Hunting in the Sand Lake Area
by Jason Boser
Itasca County’s Sand Lake is in the heart of great duck hunting country. In addition to Sand Lake, Rice Lake is to the north; to the west we have Squaw Lake and to the east we have Portage Lake and Bird’s Eye Lake. All are loaded with wild rice. In addition, to the south we have two duck factories: Bowstring Lake and the Bowstring River, with their incredible rice beds and underwater duck buffets of wild celery and fresh water shrimp.
From early season teal, wood ducks and mallards to the hardy late divers who ride the north wind with the snowflakes, this is the place ducks and duck hunters want to be.
Put all this together and the result is some mighty excellent duck hunting opportunities. The key, of course is the wild rice, which is the main food for ducks in this area.
When hunting ducks there are two important elements to remember: find where they rest and where they eat. If you set up there, they will come. The key to good duck hunting is finding the ducks and wild rice always seems to be part of the solution.
Once you have found the ducks, there are a couple different ways to hunt them. Going back to the first element, finding out where the ducks are resting, is a good place to start.
One method is simply a matter of driving around and finding where the ducks are during the day. This is what goose and duck guides do as their clients are hunting or after they are done. Be sure to bring a good set of binoculars, sometimes the ducks will be hard to spot.
When you do find a bunch of ducks (make sure they are not someone’s decoys), it is as simple as going out in the morning before sunrise and throwing out a dozen decoys.
The ducks in this situation are accustomed to being there because of food or shelter or both and they will come back as long as no one has disturbed them. Once disturbed, however, they probably won’t be back the next day. Then it’s time to scout again.
Keep in mind, as in baseball pitching, location is the key. If you are where they want to be, you usually do not need to call these ducks or even have a big spread of decoys. As I said, they will come back to where they have been hanging out.
Anther way we hunt is to get right in the rice. Find a clump of taller reeds and an opening in the rice. Again we don’t use a lot of decoys, maybe a dozen or so. Throw them out randomly in and on the edge of the opening so the passing ducks can see them.
We do try to call more in this situation. The reason for this is to get the ducks looking. Once they have looked, the next big challenge is concealment. You do not want the ducks to see you at all. If you have anything standing out the ducks will flare before you can get them in range. If they do flare consistently, reevaluate your situation. It might be something as simple as a shiny thermos.
When hunting the rice you will usually need a canoe. A trick we use to steady the canoe when we are in the rice or reeds is to bring a couple 8-10 ft poles. Stick them in the muck as far as you can and tie bungee straps around the poles. This steadies the canoe right up. There is nothing worse than a fall bath while duck hunting.
It doesn’t matter however you choose to hunt ducks. Like I said, the Sand Lake area in northwest Itasca County is great duck country and you definitely will have lots of opportunities there. From rice beds, rivers, beaver flowages, big lakes to little lakes, the Sand Lake area has it all.
Enjoy this fall’s duck hunting sunrises and sunsets. And, remember, if you can, take someone along who has never duck hunted, especially a child. Ducks over decoys is a thrill everyone should experience.