Getting Back To Basics For Ducks

As steel shot became mandatory, many veteran waterfowlersdropped 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 findexcellent shooting.

Many lakes, rivers, marshes, flooded grain fields, swamps, creeks, orisolated ponds attract ducks. A little scouting could indicate where someoneshould 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 wheremallards land. Some hunters may add pintails or teal, because a combinationof species sells it. Throw decoys on either side of a blind, butleave 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 southof 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 decoyspread. Ducks become decoy-shy after seeing so many pellets fired in theirdirection. 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 fromhigh altitude or in low-light conditions, they can detect size differencesbetween mallards and teal.

A few scattered “confidence” decoys completes theillusion 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 peoplewith shotguns. A couple coot decoys placed at the extreme range not only serveas confidence-builders, but shooting marks.

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

On rivers or lakes, many sportsmen hunt from small boats surrounded bycommercial blinds on collapsible frames. The frame comes up on both sides andforms a pyramid like a tent. When ducks come within range, hunters drop one sidequickly 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 movethroughout an area. With a boat blind, hunters can scout for ducks and set upwithin minutes. If that pothole proves fruitless, hunters can gather thedecoys, move to another choice location and reset a few decoys within minutes.

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

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

Even in well-camouflaged blinds, movement, or the lack of movement, makesthe difference between seeing and shooting ducks. Nothing spooks incomingmallards 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 awell-camouflaged blind. When ducks circle and commit to landing, everyone wantsto watch them drop into the spread. However, a face sticking out of cover couldeasily alarm the flock. Many hunters wear camouflaged masks or add camouflagedmake up to hide their faces.

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

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

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

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

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John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer and photographer withmore than 1,400 articles in more than 100 magazines to his credit. He’s alsothe National Fishing Writer for and arranges trophy bass fishing toLake El Salto, Lake Mateos in Mexico, saltwater fishing and bird hunting out ofMazatlan, Mexico. If you are interested in fishing or hunting in Mexico,contact him through his website at

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