Scouting is important in most types of hunting, and waterfowl hunting is no exception. The challenge is that waterfowl patterns are constantly changing, and because they’re migratory birds, ducks are often here one day and gone the next. In any given area, there’s usually a spot where the ducks naturally want to hang out as they take short breaks on their migration route—a certain pond, a small river, a specific corner of a big field or another area that always seems to be full of birds. This is what waterfowlers call The X, and The X can change over the course of the season and even over the course of a few days as birds shift patterns, but the point is, if you can hunt The X, duck hunting will feel like the easiest thing in the world. You’re set up where the ducks already want to be, and you might not even need to call them in.
The problem comes in when you can’t hunt The X. Maybe it’s on private land, or maybe it’s on public land but someone got up earlier than you and beat you to the ideal spot. Whatever the reason, if you can’t hunt The X, you can still have success on birds. You just have to work a little harder.
First of all, not every duck in the area is going to be on The X. Check some out-of-the-way hotspots or your usual hunting areas and see if anything is around. You can also try canoeing, kayaking or wading up rivers and jump-shooting ducks.
Second, ducks who are hanging out at The X won’t stay there all day. They’ll move around from feeding to loafing and roosting areas. If you can’t hunt The X, see if you can hunt on a route between The X and another favored area. You might have to do some fast pass-shooting, but it can make for a great hunt. Scouting is especially important here—watch the birds as they enter and leave fields at dawn and dusk and see where they go and what flight paths they naturally settle into. You want to hunt somewhere on that flight path. It’s a low-odds proposition trying to convince birds to make an extra stop in a field or on a pond they hadn’t intended on visiting, but it's not impossible, and you can have a lot of fun trying. You need good calling, a realistic decoy spread (spinning-wing decoys can help where legal) and some luck to pull this off.
Hunting near The X instead of directly on it—say, the south end of a pond where the ducks are hanging out at the north end—might be an option, depending on the situation, and it might or might not be effective depending on how committed the birds are to their chosen spot. Just remember the rules of polite public-land hunting, and never set up too close to another group of hunters or set up where you’re intentionally cutting off birds that they’re trying to work.
Third, don’t give up hope. The X changes frequently, and a spot that had no ducks when you scouted it in the evening might be full of birds the next morning. You’ll have to scout every day to try to stay on top of duck movements.
The good news is that with a little work and some luck, you can have success hunting ducks when you don’t have permission to access The X.