The Art of Deception
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The small flock of Mallards entered the north end of the lake and it appeared as though they might come by close enough to call although they were too far away to know what their plans were for sure. When they closed the distance by half we began calling to them and they veered slightly to their left and headed towards us. On their first pass, they were too high to even think about shooting, in fact no one touched their shotguns instead we gave either a few single quacks or feeding chuckle on our calls. Once directly overhead, they turned to their right and our left and headed back out to the main body of the lake and once we had their tail feathers to us we hit them with a few long drawn out hail calls. Part of their group believed whatever it was we had just told them and they began to make a large circle and come back. The rest of the ducks quickly turned and caught up with the five or six ducks that wanted to take another look at us. Soon we had the whole flock coming by for another look, this time they may have been sixty yards high. Once again no one moved and just gave a few softer quacks and feeding chuckle on their calls. The mallards repeated their first flight pattern and we once again gave the same long drawn out deliberate hail calls. The mallards once again turned and came back around to us. During this last pass, all of us knew that there would be at least some ducks close enough to shoot so we picked up our shotguns and laid them across our laps and held the guns in our right hands and held our duck calls with our left,
Seeing twenty or so mallards drop into your decoys is a sight waterfowlers live for and as I type these words I have no problem conjuring up the image from what memory folder I still have left. When at least five or six ducks were in the pocket I gave a “Take ‘Em” and four shotguns came to life. The closest duck may have been inside twenty yards and the rest of the ducks were only slightly further out. We gave a good account for ourselves and every hunter took at least one duck.
Sometimes things just work out and they did for us on that small flock of mallards. We had done something correctly when putting the decoys out in the dark at least an hour or so before the Mallards had showed up. We were hunting a small lake in South Dakota and it’s a lake that we have hunted many times before with success. Part of the reason that we have had success there is that there are reeds to sit and hide in, which do a good job of concealing us. Besides the reeds, there is also a steep bank behind us and we sit in the shadow of that steel bank until the sun climbs too high, but for a couple hours we are in the shade, which also helps hide us. The wind that morning was out of the southwest and was blowing past our left shoulders and out into a small bay just off the main body of the lake. In front of us, we had calm water because the steel bank behind us and the reeds out in front of us blocked the wind. We had about three dozen decoys out with two groups of decoys to the right and left. In the pocket between the two groups of decoys, we had three or four Teal decoys. The group on the left was strung out a little farther out into the lake and served as a sort of wall and the decoys on the right were closer to the shore and the entire spread looked like a giant “C” with one arm shorter than the other. Since we had calm water in front of us, we put a Mojo Teal decoy in that pocket to add a little movement, as well as a Mallard Air Ducky with spinning wings. It was a little ways out into the water where the wind could catch it and bring its spinning wings to life.
Since the pocket was in the center of the decoys, we did something else to put the odds in our favor. Two hunters sat on the east side of the spread and two hunters sat on the west side. Since the mallards’ attention would be directed to that pocket no one sat there, so the approaching ducks would find it easier to detect a hunter. Yes, some of our success that morning may have been luck and some of it was just putting a little thought in putting our decoys out.
There are several things to consider when putting your decoys out, but without a doubt the greatest factor is wind direction. This is easier to remedy if the wind is wrong when you’re on a walk in hunt you simply walk around until the wind is at your back and the decoys are in front of you. If you have a permanent blind, then you have to set your decoys so the ducks can use the wind to approach your decoys. For example, if I have a west wind then the pocket will still be in front of my blind, but the vast majority of the decoys will be out farther and to the west of my blind with only a few decoys along the shore and my spread resembles an inverted “C.” Another thing I do when putting out my decoys is I take a large tape measure and make sure that my decoys are all within shooting range. A duck that wants to land on the outside of my decoys that are fifty yards from me, is a duck that will live another day. So I want that pocket to be within forty yards of me or my permanent blind, which means quick kills and easier retrieves for Bailey, my lab. In order to hopefully make sure the ducks are drawn to the pocket, I keep it pretty much decoy free, so there is plenty of room for them to get down. I may have a pair of mallard decoys in that pocket, but they will be my best looking decoys. Some may differ and say that your decoy spread is only as good as your worse looking decoys, but when their attention is focused on that pocket I want it to look good. Like most everything else when it comes to waterfowling, it’s just an opinion and there are many opinions.
I also like to have little groups of other species of ducks in my mallard decoys as well. Close to shore, I may have seven or eight teal decoys and to the outside edge of my decoys I may have that same amount of diver decoys, as well. I tell myself that different species makes a difference and I cannot swear that it always works, but I do get a number of diver ducks that give my spread a look that otherwise may have stayed out in the middle of the lake and never ventured within shooting range. While some hate them and some love them, I like to use spinning wing decoys on those days when there isn’t much wind to add life to my decoys. I have one motion decoy who sits on the surface of the water and another on a pole about three feet above the surface of the water. There is no sure thing in waterfowl hunting, but motion does help in creating the illusion that those plastic molded fakes at least look real and with some animation to them!