Once you’ve compiled a list of potential locations, it’s time to get out and see what it looks like from ground level, and more important, whether the ducks like it.
Observe your potential spots frequently to see if ducks are using them, both before and throughout the season. While not necessary, a decent pair of binoculars makes spotting far-off ducks a lot easier.
After you confirm ducks are using a location, study it closely to pattern the birds and determine when they are arriving and departing. That might be at first light, but it could be also be mid-morning (which means a couple hours of extra sleep and warmer temperatures), or in the afternoon or early evening. In any case, you’ll want to have your decoys out and be ready to hunt before they start pouring in. Putting in this work ahead of a hunt can minimize the amount of time you are staring at empty skies, and allow you to plan a more efficient and productive hunt.
Hunters shouldn’t put all their effort into one location because it does not take much hunting pressure to discourage ducks from using it. This is especially true of smaller waters. Work to find and pattern ducks at several locations, avoid over-pressuring any single spot. Continue to scout various spots throughout the season, and above all else, be adaptable and mobile. For the best results, public land hunters need to be able to adjust their strategy based on where the birds are, and where other hunters are not.
Develop your game plan(s)
Once you’ve tracked down some promising public areas, consider concealment (i.e. is there natural cover, or if you have to build or bring a blind) and be adaptable. Ducks will generally land into the wind, so you will want to set up with the wind at your back if possible. Identify a number of different places you can set up at each location depending on the wind direction.
Think about where you might want to position your decoys. Keep in mind that your decoys should be within effective shotgun range (somewhere around 40 yards). If you are hunting without a dog, you will also want to make sure that the water is shallow enough for you to safely wade, both to set out your decoys and to retrieve downed birds.