Words by Brandt Meixell
Location, Location, Location. Waterfowl tend to feed in spots they’ve fed before, roost in places they’ve roosted before, and travel flight paths they’ve flown before. Of course, you want to pick a general location where birds are present, but more importantly, you want to pick the precise spot the birds like.
It may be a small channel through the cattails, a slight depression in a field, or a not-so-obvious spot in the middle of a marsh. Identify a flight pattern or a specific location birds tend to use, and you will tend to have success.
Play the Wind
Waterfowl land into the wind. Set up your decoy spread with the wind at your back or at your side. This is critical for a couple reasons. First, when a bird is landing towards you the softer flesh of the breast is exposed for easier penetration by your pellets. Second, the wind at your back tends to keep birds out in front of you where they are less likely to spot you and your hunting buddy.
If it looks like a blind to you, it looks like a blind to a duck. If a blind conceals you and your movement, it’s serving its purpose. Plenty of birds are killed from stupid looking blinds. But, especially in pressured areas, birds can be as good at picking out blinds as they are some guy wearing blaze orange who’s standing up in the middle of a marsh. Some extra effort to conceal your ambush spot with natural vegetation, or a little sacrifice of comfort for extra concealment, can often make a big difference.
Create Landing Zones
You decide where they land. Decoying waterfowl generally attempt to land in holes or open spots within the decoys. Once you’ve determined a location for your blind, determine your “X”, or that precise spot you want the birds to be when you shoot. This should be close enough to the blind to provide for those ideal 20-30 yard shots, but far enough out that attention isn’t drawn to you. Leave an obvious opening in the decoys on your X to increase your chances for close and clean kills.
Increase the visibility of your spread. For a decoy spread to attract birds, the birds have to see it. White and black are the most visible colors, so don’t be afraid to mix in some drake diving ducks or Canada goose decoys to your dabbler spread for some added visibility.
You can also increase the visibility of your spread through larger-than-life magnum decoys and by adding some motion with spinning-wing decoys, flags, and decoys connected to jerk cords.
Calling is a great tool for attracting the birds’ attention, and for coaxing them in for that final approach. On some days, all you need is a few soft quacks or honks and they’ll drop in on a string. On other days, you’ll need to stay on that call with every bit of your lungs from start to finish.
Pay attention to how the birds are responding, and give them what they seem to like. When in doubt, call as little as is necessary. Once you have the birds coming, let them come. Whaling on the call at the wrong time may just ruin your chances for that feast of roasted duck.
Observe and adapt. If the first flock flares at 80 yards, or lands to the outside of your spread, there’s a good chance the next flock will too. This could be a result of someone’s shiny face, an insufficiently concealed blind, or that you’re as little as 20 yards from the spot they want to be.
Getting out a hundred yards from your setup and taking a birds-eye view can often reveal these small, but important, mistakes. Figure out the problem and keep modifying things until the birds start cooperating.
In short, be where the birds want to be and give them what they like. If what you’re doing isn’t working, mix things up until it does.