Follow our waterfowl series.
You and a buddy are going to Arkansas on a flooded timber hunt. The first step is to check out of state regulations to see if motorized decoys are legal. Currently they are, so I would pack one or two spinning wing decoys. Next I would want some water motion, in the timber most likely a jerk cord will suffice. My main spread would be around two dozen Mallards with Pintails, Gadwalls, and Wood Ducks mixed in for realism and the potential to take a mixed bag limit. In timber, once the ducks are under the tree canopy and can see the decoys really well, they’re usually committed and within shooting range.
You are headed out to hunt a local public area here in middle Tennessee that has a planted food source in it. For our purposes, lets say it’s unharvested corn. I would start with one spinning wing decoy and add or subtract depending on how the birds react to it that day. I would deploy several decoys to move water ideally ones that are mechanical as well as a jerk cord. For my main decoy spread I would start with Mallards for sure. Numbers on areas like this can be tricky as you want to leave room for ducks to land in the hole and you want to look different from the others hunting around you. I’ve used as few as six decoys and as many as six dozen, on average I like about three dozen Mallards. The majority of these would be in some kind of feeding posture, whether its surface skimmers, duck butts, or what have you. I always leave a few decoys with their heads up as there are always birds in the flock looking for any sign of danger. Earlier in the season I would add Gadwalls and Wood Ducks to the spread, As the water gets closer to the consistancy of a slushie I would swap them out for Pintails and Black Ducks. I'd add Bluebills or Ringnecks as well for the different factor as well as goose decoys if any are in the area.
Its mid-season and the birds have been around awhile and know where not to go. You and a couple buddies load into the boat to go try to hunt open water areas where birds are resting. First, have a boat large enough to handle the load you're taking. A 12 ft Jon boat is a death sentence for this type of hunting. Also, make sure you have PFD’s for everyone on board and at least one throw-able model. This is the type of duck hunting where lives are lost in the wrong situations so be prepared with back up engine parts, snacks, ways to start a fire, etc. For your decoys you're going to want to start with about four dozen Mallards in lower head and sleeping positions. To that, add another four to six dozen various diver duck species. If you have geese or swans in the area as well they make great additions to your spread as they can be seen for some distance. In this situation a goose flag is usually all you need to get the birds attention from a distance.
You and several buddies are going to hunt the Prairie for the first time and are fired up about it. First thing is to check the regulations for the area your going to as there will be differences in bag limit and procedure. South Dakota, for example, has a drawing for nonresident waterfowl hunters and Canada is literally a whole other country so passports and inspections are required as well as vet records if you're taking your furry retrieving machine with you. Next, talk to the waterfowl biologists in the area as they are a great resource as to the species you can expect in the areas and timetable you plan to be there. Now, the reason I said several buddies is you’ll probably want two pickup beds worth of gear between layout blinds, extra guns, and of course the decoys. Field decoys really shine out here in a variety of situations. Any and all species could come into play but Mallards and Canada Geese usually get the job done in the fall, especially if you're near water and can mix your other species there. As water is limited here a more diverse adaptable spread is better than a massive one of all the same stuff. Take a little bit of everything you have including diver species, some of my best diver hunts have been on small ponds that were overlooked in favor of bigger and more famous water. Use the shallows and dry land to set your field decoys and trail the floaters into the water like new additions to the party.
This gives you some basic aspects and ideas of building your own decoy spread. The beauty of the process is that it’s as individual as the hunters in the field and an ever evolving thing. I reassess and alter my decoy spread every year in the hopes of getting a few more graceful wings to cup into by decoys, to hear someones shotgun bark and watching my aging yellow lab Daisy make one more, but hopefully not the last, retrieve of her career. Just thinking of it causes me to smile and think of what an accomplishment it is to fool nature and to see and experience things that most would deem misery but only a waterfowler can truly love.
Cory, Hunting Associate