The truth is that you can spread your duck decoys just about any way you wish, as long as you leave an open area for the birds to land into the wind. No matter which way they come from, or how much they circle, their final move down will be into the wind. No wind at all? It becomes a guessing game.
Here are a few of the editor’s favorite Duck Hunting guides that have been submitted by Hunting Guide from across the nation.
Duck Hunting Guide’s Advice I Don’t Want to Hear
In the duck blind, you’ll often hear your guide urge you to, “Stay down. Keep your head down. Don’t watch the birds! I’ll do the watching.” Well, if you’re not watching the birds, you’re losing part of the joys of the hunt. Your blind should be good enough for you to peer through the stalks or brush just as the guide is doing. When the ducks are passing right overhead, neither one of you should be looking skyward. You’ll spook the birds for sure.
Pothole Sneak Attack
If you’ve scouted out a promising pothole or small pond and you’re planning to jump-shoot the ducks that are resting there, try to sneak up on them with the wind at your back. When the ducks jump into the wind (which they most certainly will do), you might get a shot before they re-orient themselves and fly the other way.
Local Birds: Use Small Decoy Spreads for Small Bunches
Make a distinction between the resident ducks you hunt in the early season and the large flocks that migrate in later on. You’ll spot resident birds in pairs and small flocks, so decoy them accordingly and don’t burn out any one place by hunting it too often. Save the big spreads for when the birds from up north show up.
Mix ’Em up If You Want To
So you’re thinking about adding some bluebills or canvasbacks (diving ducks) to your decoy setup of mallards, pintails, and gadwalls (puddle ducks) to give your spread more visibility. Go right ahead. It won’t hurt your chances a bit.
Jump-shooting ducks from a canoe or john-boat is a great way to hunt some creeks and small rivers. The best way is with a partner, one hunter with the gun at the ready, the other on the paddling. Stay quiet; anticipate the sharp bends where you may surprise a few mallards, blacks, or other puddle ducks. Listen carefully as you go. You just might hear the birds before you get to them.
Too Hidden for a Good Shot
When you’re hunkered down in a blind so that you can’t see the ducks you’re working, when it comes time for someone to exclaim, “Take ’em!” you come up with your gun and have to find the birds before you get down to pointing and swinging the barrel. It won’t be an easy shot.
Gloves for Setting out Decoys
Gloves that stretch almost to your elbows and keep your hands dry are a must for setting out decoys. Shuck ’em off and wear your regular gloves when you get into the blind. See the “Midwest PVC Decoy Glove” at Mack’s Prairie Wings, www.mackspw.com. Check other favorite waterfowl gear vendors for other options.
Pond Shooting at Sunset: The Way It Used to Be
Waiting for ducks at sunset beside ponds where the ducks would be coming to roost was once a mainstay of hunting tactics. Local wood ducks, mallards, and black ducks, puddle ducks of all sorts that had migrated into a particular area— they all come hurtling into the ponds after sunset. Sometimes the shooting was so late, the birds had to be outlined against the western sky. Today, shooters who try this are easy marks for wardens waiting nearby to hear the sounds of gunshots after legal shooting hours. If you want to just watch the show (and you should!) leave your guns in the truck.
It’s All about Visibility, Visibility, Visibility
Unless you’re gunning a tiny creek-bottom or river location, surrounded by high trees, most of your duck-hunting locations will be in open areas where you hope passing birds can see your decoys and come on in. Anything you can do to increase the visibility of your spread will make a difference. Black decoys show up better from a distance. Magnum-size adds visibility. Canada geese decoys add visibility, whether you’re hunting geese or not. Movement devices (the ones that are legal where you hunt) are critical if there’s no wind blowing: spinners, battery-driven shakers, pull-cord movers—whatever you’ve got.
The “Hole” Is the Thing
No matter what shape of the decoy spread you decide is right for your hunting location and conditions, it must contain a hole or two for the birds to land. If the water in front of the blind is solid with decoys, the birds will land on the outside of the spread, at long range or even out of range.
The Outer Gun: The Key Position
The Outside shooter on the upwind side of permanent duck blinds or layout blind setups is in the key position and can absolutely ruin the shooting for everybody with him. It’s happened to me more times than I can remember. The ducks, or geese, are coming into the spread against the wind, from his side. If he starts shooting too early, around the corner, the guns in the center and another side will get no shots or shots at widely flaring birds only. Sometimes, to top off this little drama, the outside offender will turn to the other guys and say, “Why didn’t you guys shoot?” Advice: Put an experienced shooter in that outside position, a shooter with the judgment and nerve to wait until the birds are into the spread enough so everybody can shoot.
Where’d the Mallards Go?
When you’re on a marsh in the early morning where you reasonably expect a flight of mallards, don’t be surprised if they don’t show up until later in the morning. Your local birds or even visitors from the north, maybe feeding in the fields.
Black Ducks—Red Letter Day
My calling aspirations reached a sort of pinnacle years later. I was hunkered on an icy creek on the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay, near the famous Susquehanna Flats. A pair of black ducks flew down the creek, very high and in a big hurry, headed somewhere with express tickets. They clearly were not interested in my modest decoy spread, but when I hit them with my old Herter’s call and the Highball, they turned like I had ’em wired. Interested then, they circled warily while I scrunched down. Now I started rattling off my Feeding Chuckle, and a few moments later they were cupped and committed. I could finally say that I knew how to call ducks.
Where the Birds Want to Be
Pushing into a cove in the marsh or along a big river or lake, in the first pre-dawn light, you flush a big bunch of ducks or geese. Away they go, gabbling and honking. Never mind trying to follow them or heading for another spot. Set up right there. It’s the place the birds want to be.
Few moments afield are as thrilling as those when a big flock of ducks sweeps into your decoys. You’ll shoot a lot better when you are aware whether your birds are diving ducks—like bluebills and canvasbacks—or puddle ducks—like mallards and pintails. Diving ducks will bore straight past when the shooting starts, while puddle ducks will bounce skyward as though launched from a trampoline.
When gunning the hole in the tall timber with a few decoys out, give the water around your tree a good kick when birds are passing or circling to imitate splashing and feeding activity.
Using the Wind with Your Decoy Spread
Ducks often want to land outside a spread of decoys—even when the setup has left an inviting hole. That ’s why you want to set your decoys upwind—not directly in front of the blind—so that you’ll still have a good shot at the birds coming in against the wind and trying to land on the outside of the decoy spread.
Don’t Be a “Skybuster”
A Skybuster is the most hated character on any marsh or field where there’s duck or goose hunting. The Skybuster burns away at birds that are obviously out of range, thereby alarming the birds away from the region and ruining probabilities others might have had on the incoming birds.
Beating the Crowds in Public Hunting
Ducks swiftly wise up to blinds on open hunting regions. You score more ducks if you seek out remote corners that see much less pressure. Use just 6 or so decoys and call only sufficient to get passing birds’ attention.