– Veteran Minnesota duck hunters will recall the days when opening day shooting began at noon. More recently, opening day waterfowlers were allowed to start shooting at 9 a.m.

A few years ago opening day shooting time was moved forward to one-half hour before sunrise.

When Minnesota's 2013 waterfowl season opens Saturday, Sept. 21, hunters again will be allowed to shoot at one-half hour before sunrise, which makes preseason scouting all the more important. Floundering helter-skelter in a sprawling coal-black marsh in the predawn is prelude to an unsuccessful waterfowl hunt.

Better to spend a day or two scouting ahead of the season opener to avoid such nonsense. Of course, a scouting trip will also reveal where and when ducks are using a particular marsh.

I always look forward to scouting before the duck opener. It allows me to assess the many variables which eventually lead to a successful opening day. A scouting venture not only permits me to find where and when ducks are using a particular location, it also provides me an opportunity to evaluate my hunting equipment. Opening morning at zero dark thirty is not the time to discover your boat motor won't start, or you have a broken oar lock.

Hunters scouting ahead of the opener should have two goals in mind: Find where waterfowl are feeding and where they spend the day loafing. These locations can change from year to year so don't always count on ducks and geese using the same spots.

For example, I typically hunt a sprawling wild rice marsh on the opener, and every year the rice crop varies. Last year my scouting venture revealed the wild rice crop was extremely sparse. Eventually I located a bay that held not only decent rice, but also a profusion of duckweed. It was no surprise when I flushed an assortment of waterfowl including mallards, wood ducks and blue-winged teal. Those ducks were still feeding in the bay when the season opened a few days later.

Waterfowl loafing areas can oftentimes be located even when the birds are away feeding. Ducks and geese spend much of the day preening their plumage. While scouting be on the lookout for loose feathers floating about. Also keep an eye out for droppings.

It's best to scout as close to opening day as possible because early migrating ducks such as blue-winged teal and wood ducks can leave or arrive depending on the weather. However, don't wait until the day before the opener because, as previously noted, if you find your gear in need of repair you'll want plenty of time for a fix.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.