Why Small Decoy Spreads Still Work.

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Waterfowl hunting is a world of gear. By that, I mean blinds, decoys, calls, waders, jackets, boats, bikes, and so many more gadgets that it seems intimidating getting into it. There’s trying to learn how to identify different breeds and learning how to read weather and water and patterns. It really can be overwhelming. I’m here to help simplify some of that. I really don’t believe you need all those things to have a good time duck hunting. One thing I firmly believe is that you don’t need hundreds of decoys to be successful.

Watching hunting videos, they make it appear that to have a good time you need hundreds of decoys. My full-time job doesn’t pay me enough to get so many decoys that I need a boat or a trailer to lug them around. There are a few important principles of setting up decoys that really make the difference. Once I learned to find the right spot and setting up landing zones, I was able to let my decoys work for me and I only carry 12 decoys in my decoy bag. So when I say it can be done, it can be done. I’m not an expert and I learn new things every time I hunt but these are two lessons that have made a difference.

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Finding the Right Spot

I also call this part, doing your homework. While I was figuring this part out, I was watching Youtube and reading articles everywhere I could find. There are a ton of resources on this topic and many of them gave me little tidbits that helped me put this together. A few of the rules are, find the roost. This means to find where they sleep at night. Part of that rule is don’t hunt the roost. The other rule is to find the feed. Where are they getting food? Are they feeding in fields? Or are they looking for invertebrates in small eddies? The other rule is to find where they rest. Knowing those places is a good strong start.

From there I put together a pattern in my head and watch the ducks. This helps me make sure I’m setting up on their way to feed or tricking them into a “rest” area. This plays into your set up and your calling strategy. A few things I look for in my location is, do I have enough traffic overhead? Can I recover a downed duck? (my goal is to harvest, not bird watch) Can I hide well enough and still see the sky and incoming ducks? A great example of all of this was my hunt at Fish Springs. My buddy and I jumped birds all day but we also watched birds moving from north to south before shooting hours. At the end of the day, we set up on the way to the roost. We weren’t in the exact right spot and there wasn’t any wind (wind is your friend) so we had a hard time but we still got multiple shots off.

I do have to say that sometimes, even with the best homework, things don’t work out. I have had more days where I saw ducks flying way up high or not even seen one. This is all part of the game and it’s also part of the fun. When this happens, I write down what I did and what I observed and try and learn from it. That’s how this can be fun. That’s why there are no bad days in the blind.

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Setting Up Landing Zones

Setting up landing zones is what creates the best shots. There’s an article on Endless Migration that mentions not sky busting. This is shooting up in the sky in hopes of downing a duck with a random pellet. This is the duck hunting equivalent of spray and pray. Setting up landing zones gets around this need and also puts ducks in range so a clean ethical kill is possible.

When I set up my decoys, I decide what I want them to appear to be doing. Are they feeding or are they happy little ducks hanging out? Sometimes it’s a combination of both. To learn this, I spent some time watching ducks at a local duck pond. I quickly saw patterns and learned what those ducks sounded like during feeding or when they are just hanging out. Believe it or not, they don’t yell at each other. It’s all soft calls and it sounds very peaceful. This also helped me learn where the ducks like to land. I watched countless ducks land and move around and I saw what kind of gaps they looked for or if they didn’t look for a gap at all but instead landed in open water and swam into the crowd.

I found that depending on the water and the placement of the ducks, the ducks looked for different things. If there was a lot of open water, they chose the more open areas to land and then swam in. If it was smaller and there was enough space for a duck to land and come to a stop, that’s where they landed. This helped me in creating the landing zone so that it sat in front of where I was hiding. Putting that landing zone in front of me has made it so I have better shots at the ducks and more opportunities. As I sit here writing I can think of times where my decoys set off to the side from where I was because I wanted the ducks to land in front of me. This has paid off and produced many shooting opportunities.

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Finding the right spot and creating landing zones makes it so a couple dozen decoys can really be realistic. I have found that unless ducks are feeding or roosting, they don’t sit there in large groups, at least where I hunt. 12 decoys make it so I can have the right size spread and still get the right attention from the ducks up high. I’ve watched them fly over me and come back around and come around again without me doing any calls. Eventually, they commit and I get a few shots off. The one other thing I haven’t mentioned is moving the decoys.

Moving the decoys can make or break your hunt. The time to move them is when ducks fly over your decoys but never commit. In other words, you have the right traffic and you’re close enough to the right spot so you’ve done your homework and now it’s just not working. Take your time and think about why the ducks might not be committing. Maybe there isn’t enough movement in the decoys, or there is too much movement. Maybe by the time they see the decoys, they’re already buzzing and moving on to other spots.

The best example I can think of is my swan hunt. I had swans flying everywhere. I didn’t dare try to mimic the noise they make so I was left to my decoys working for me. I had my duck decoys out to add some confidence to the swan decoys I was borrowing. After a couple of hours, I realized that the swans were flying over the top of these 7-foot tall reeds and just blowing right past my decoys. Eventually, I put together that they weren’t seeing my decoys until they were on top of them and moving on. I moved my swan decoys further away into some more open water and created a landing zone right in front of my hide with enough space for a large swan to land in. The first flight that came in was cupped up and committed to my decoys and I bagged my first swan.

Unless you’re a guide or have been collecting decoys all your life, a couple dozen decoys will work fine. I suggest finding a way to create some movement, whether it be a jerk chord or a motion decoy. Creating your own movement helps in days with no wind. Doing my homework is what has helped me be successful in setting up my decoys. This hasn’t come with empty days and with thinking, I did everything right and still had nothing come of it. Learning is part of the game and no bird days are part of it too. The other suggestion I have is finding a way to make your decoys stand out. I plan on buying some canvasback decoys before the season starts just to help make my spread pop a bit. That should bring my decoy count to 18 decoys. Sometimes, keeping it simple is the best way to go.

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Thanks for reading and hopefully this helps clear some of the myths of decoys. If you liked the blog then make sure you subscribe and don’t forget to share this post on Facebook by clicking the share button below.

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