Getting Back to Basics For Ducks

As steel shot became mandatory, many veteran waterfowlers dropped the sport in the lean years of the 1980s and early 1990s. However, with the performance of non-toxic shot improving, sportsmen might resume the old traditions and find excellent shooting.

Many lakes, rivers, marshes, flooded grain fields, swamps, creeks, or isolated ponds attract ducks. A little scouting could indicate where someone should set the decoys.

Decoys should mimic the type of birds most found in a particular location. Mallards make the best all-around decoy species. Most waterfowl land where mallards land. Some hunters may add pintails or teal, because a combination of species sells it. Throw decoys on either side of a blind, but leave a landing pocket in front of the blind at the optimum shooting location.

Craig Constance admires some ducks he killed on a hunt in the marshes south of Lake Charles, La. (Photos by John N. Felsher)

Early in the season, a large decoy spread might attract more ducks. However, by late season, winged veterans have flown over every type of tantalizing decoy spread. Ducks become decoy-shy after seeing so many pellets fired in their direction. During late season, fewer decoys could mean more ducks in the bag.

Mix up Type of Decoys
Even if birds cannot discern the paint job from high altitude or in low-light conditions, they can detect size differences between mallards and teal.

A few scattered “confidence” decoys completes the illusion of safety. Place a couple fake herons or egrets on the far shoreline. Ducks get used to seeing herons and know they don’t like to hang around people with shotguns. A couple coot decoys placed at the extreme range not only serve as confidence-builders, but shooting marks.

Blinds vary in style, size and composition. On major lakes, some people hunt from floating brush-laden platforms surrounded by several hundred decoys. In flooded agricultural fields, people hunt from pits sunk at the pond edges with a dozen or two decoys spread in a pothole.

On rivers or lakes, many sportsmen hunt from small boats surrounded by commercial blinds on collapsible frames. The frame comes up on both sides and forms a pyramid like a tent. When ducks come within range, hunters drop one side quickly and shoot at surprised birds.

Nick Quinn, a guide for Mallard Pointe Lodge near Brinkley, Ark., calls in more ducks in a wooded slough.

Boat blinds give hunters increased mobility. Birds frequently move throughout an area. With a boat blind, hunters can scout for ducks and set up within minutes. If that pothole proves fruitless, hunters can gather the decoys, move to another choice location and reset a few decoys within minutes.

Blinds should closely blend in with surrounding vegetation. A large green block sticking up in a gray and brown marsh could frighten ducks, for example. Cover blinds with vegetation similar to that already growing nearby.

Hide in Natural Cover
Wherever possible, no blind makes the best blind. In thick cover, hunters can crouch down in natural vegetation. In flooded timber, hunters stand next to trees. Driftwood piled on a lake or bay shoreline also makes an excellent blind.

Even in well-camouflaged blinds, movement, or the lack of movement, makes the difference between seeing and shooting ducks. Nothing spooks incoming mallards like an over-anxious hunter jumping too soon. If caught in the open, freeze. Someone standing still, even if clearly visible out of the blind, attracts less attention than a sudden drop into deep cover.

Nothing stands out like a beacon to a duck than a person’s face, even in a well-camouflaged blind. When ducks circle and commit to landing, everyone wants to watch them drop into the spread. However, a face sticking out of cover could easily alarm the flock. Many hunters wear camouflaged masks or add camouflaged make up to hide their faces.

Good callers can entice ducks from far away for extra shots, but poor callers scare ducks. Too many callers call too frequently and chase ducks rather than invite them down. If ducks look like they plan to land, keep quiet and let them.

Carlin LeDoux of DeRidder, La., shows off a hen canvasback he killed with Bobby Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun Club.

Clearly, most hunters blow mallard hen calls. Therefore, ducks may become so used to wooden or plastic quacks that they won’t respond to even the most alluring call. Try something different. Vary calls. Call in low tones instead of high, boisterous quacks. Throw in a few widgeon, pintail or teal whistles for variety.

Even with the best decoy spread, champion calling, impenetrable natural blind and stealth, hunters won’t bag ducks unless ducks come within range. With their wings, they can fly hundreds of miles in a day to find desirable food, shelter and water or avoid hunters.

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