Outside of actually finding the birds and securing a place to hunt, there is no single factor more important to consistently killing ducks and geese than staying hidden. Effective concealment involves a whole lot more than simply picking a pattern of camouflage for your coat, hat, and gloves. If you truly want to avoid being busted by the watchful eyes of waterfowl, here are a few tips on how to stay out of sight.
Waterfowl hunting, with all of its different aspects like scouting, decoys, calling, dogs, and more, can be a lot of work. But thankfully there is a return on this investment of effort in the form of birds on the strap. The more you invest, typically, the more plucked mallards you have for the grill, and this includes the time you put into staying concealed. The good news is that you can put in a lot of the work to remain hidden before the hunt even begins.
When layout blinds first hit the market, the shine of the fabric was blamed for causing birds to flare in the field, so hunters began to “mud-in” the surfaces of their blinds by slopping on a mixture of dirt and water, letting it dry, and then use a broom to brush off the excess. This approach still works, but a light layer of flat black, brown or other natural color of spray paint works just as well, and this should be done to the surface of any blind made out of fabricated materials in order to reduce the glare.
After softening the sheen of these materials with mud or paint, go ahead and zip-tie enough bundles of natural or synthetic grass to the straps on the blind to create a base layer of cover. This little bit of preparation will go a long way toward breaking up the outline of the blind in the field. Be sure to choose colors of grass that match the general surroundings of those areas you plan to hunt. The zip-ties will keep the bundles in place between hunts, and all of this will save you time in the field—time that you should spend adding grass or other cover from the area (see below) to fill in the gaps and add a natural finish to your hide before enjoying a cup of coffee while waiting for the birds to arrive.
Use Local Cover
Finding ducks close to home is always a good thing but finding a motherlode of mallards virtually in your backyard is something else. That’s exactly what a good buddy and I discovered years ago along a stretch of river just minutes from my house.
The only potential hiccup in our plan to shoot a limit of December greenheads was coming up with a way to stay out of sight. The ducks were loafing in the middle of the river on a sandbar that provided little in the way of places to hide. So, the day of the hunt we arrived with enough time to construct a blind out of logs, sticks, and grasses we found along the river’s edge. A grip-n-grin with 10 big South Dakota greenheads after the hunt was proof that we did something right.
Regardless of where you are setting up, be it in a corn field, a cattail marsh, or on a river, it’s always best to use natural materials from the immediate area you are hunting to conceal you and your gear. This is true whether you are constructing a blind on site or using a layout, A-frame, or other mobile blind. If there is little available cover where you want to hunt, expand your search to find grasses, branches, or other cover from a nearby fenceline, slough edge, or even a nearby roadside ditch. If possible, do not disturb the cover directly surrounding the spot you plan to hunt because you’ll need that cover to break up the outline of the blind and help your hide blend into the natural surroundings.
As I mentioned earlier, be sure to use natural cover from the surrounding area to fill in the gaps in a base layer of cover that you zip-tied to your A-frame or layout blind before the hunt. That time-saving measure only works if you take this one additional step to add what’s needed to make the blind disappear.
A rake, garden snips, machete, and even a battery-powered hedge trimmer can help make quick work of gathering enough material for your blind. When you think you have enough, go back and cut some more. Make sure to carry some zip-ties in your blind bag to create bundles of grass that you can add to conceal any trouble spots, like the top opening of an A-frame blind, and help fill in the gaps that pop up due to the wear and tear of a hunt.
Sun and Shadows
The standard thought when positioning a blind is to do so in a way that will place the wind at your back, causing ducks and geese to finish directly in front of the blind for incoming or overhead shots. I’ll make the case, however, that it is more important to have the sun at your back, or at least quartering over a shoulder, than the wind. There are rare days when you can have both, but if you have to choose between the wind and the sun, I suggest the latter.
If you’ve ever spent a morning looking directly into the sun while trying to watch birds work the decoys, you’ll understand very well why this tactic works. By keeping the sun at your back or over your shoulder you force the birds to fight that blinding light while you wait patiently in the shadows for them to finish. Based on the wind direction, this may mean setting up your decoys for more of a crossing shot when birds finish in front of the blind.
Even with the sun at your back there is little room for error when it comes to hunters casually gazing up at the sky or otherwise creating movement that birds can detect. Keep all movement within the confines of the blind and be sure that there is adequate overhead cover to minimize the appearance of a “black hole” or other unnatural opening.
This is especially true on those low-light days when cloudy skies minimize shadows and create conditions that seem to allow decoying birds to spot blinds and detect even the smallest amount of motion. Under these circumstances, I like to set up the decoys for a crossing shot and move whatever motion I’m using in the decoys, be it a spinning-wing decoy or jerk string, to one side of the blind or the other so that the birds’ focus remains away from where the hunters. Some days all we can do is try to hide, but if you do make concealment a priority, you’re going to win that battle more often than not.