Small-Water Duck Blinds
September 24, 2010
Setting up for some wingshooting on a small pond is quite different from putting out a spread of decoys on open water. Here are some tips on concealing yourself for this type of shooting.
Pit blinds camouflaged with native grasses are often all that is needed in small-water situations. Photo by Mike Marsh
I had hunted the flooded timber pond for a couple of seasons and knew by instinct the precise instant that the ducks would fly as daybreak began to glow through the skeletons of bare-limbed oak and blackgum trees. The only opening in the canopy that offered a decent chance at a shot was located in the center of the swamp. So I had waded through the pungent black organic muck, which sucked the wader boots from my feet and stretched the tendons in my knees until they cracked like a box full of rocks as I tried to free my legs from the vacuum created with each step.
Leaning against the trunk of a cypress tree, I pulled a camouflaged net over my face and drew my hat brim low to hide my eyes. My breath filtered in steam puffs through the fine mesh, which made up my only "blind" and hung in the windless humidity, obscuring my vision.
Wood duck hens squealed all around as they gathered flocks that had scattered while roosting during the night. Drakes sounded their buzzing "good mornings" as they paddled through the thickets to join the awakening hens. The splashing and chattering of their wake-up activities filled the surrounding swamp until feather tips beat against branches as the birds lifted off from the flooded thickets. The whistling of wings announced the first flock of six as it passed within the small circle of open sky. My Lab whined but held steady as the ducks came into view.
Mounting my gun and swinging it along the flight pattern of the flock, I fired once and a bird folded cleanly. As I tried to swing on a second bird, my hat fell off and floated gently upside down on the water. I twisted and fell while fighting for balance and found quickly that the water was cold and tasted as nasty as it smelled. The cypress knee that jabbed my ribs was as hard as the tree trunk I had been leaning against. The adolescent pup broke instead of holding steady during the commotion, then went about his business of fetching the bird, wondering why I was in the water at eye level with him.
I muttered a few choice words as I regained my footing and poured water from my gun barrel. My neoprene waders sagged until I looked like the chubby character in the baking commercials. After eyeing me uneasily, the dog headed away instead of handing me the drake woodie and then swam back to his place on a floating log with the duck dangling from his mouth. He knew the boss was mad and drooped his ears, hoping I wasn't upset because he had broken before a release command or had done something else he was not supposed to do.
My hunt that day was done. But I vowed that by the next season, I would have a surer platform to stand upon when hunting in that productive shooting hole.
PERMANENT BLINDS That summer, while the swamp was dry, my wife and son helped me sink and cement four treated wood posts into the swamp bottom. A frame of treated lumber overlaid with tongue-and-grove bulkhead boards created a level floor big enough for three hunters and a retriever. Sides and a roof were added. A marvel of design by wood duck swamp standards, the blind has withstood the floodwaters of seven hurricanes, as well as spring floods that have overtopped it by five feet at times during its lifetime of 15 years. To resurrect it each season, we have only to add a few tree limbs to provide camouflage and use insect spray on the paper wasps that like to build their nests beneath the shell shelf and the roof of the blind.
But the real beauty of the blind is that the footing is as sure as that of our living room floor. Hitting ducks is easier because swinging a shotgun is more fluid and there is no longer any danger of falling into the water when a speeding duck twists me into a pretzel. Such permanent blinds are a luxury, but they are the most comfortable type for hunting ducks. Blinds can be built as ours was by digging or jetting pilings into the soil. Concreting them in place helps keep them stabile and provides ballast to keep them from floating away. By tying tree limbs cut from the surrounding area around the structure with decoy line, the blind can be made to blend into the swamp. Stabile uprights help hide occupants by preventing swaying caused by hunters' movements from being transmitted to the surrounding water or into camouflaging branches. Adding a roof to support overhanging limbs is another feature that can help hide a permanent blind from overhead eyes. When you're taking youngsters along for their first hunt, a well-built permanent blind helps to hide their impatience and exuberance.
Marsh potholes and flooded grain fields create a different set of circumstances than flooded timber. Instead of building an elevated platform, you should consider building a blind that hides you below the surrounding water surface. On wide, flat expanses, anything that sticks up above the horizon is a dead giveaway to the ducks that hunters are lurking inside. It may be that the higher elevation makes hunters easier to spot if they move or show their faces. But I think ducks that have been fired upon simply learn to avoid anything that extends above a marsh.
A pit blind constructed of fiberglass, concrete or wood sunk into a point or island is the very best blind you can construct when the terrain is flat and featureless. It can take hours of labor to dig the hole and line it, but a pit is warm when conditions are windy and frosty, and it offers a low profile. The disadvantage of pit blinds is that they must be baled or pumped free of water before, and sometimes during, a hunt because they hold rainwater and also often develop leaks after several seasons of use.
Many hunters build semi-pit blinds from treated plywood and framing lumber. Such blinds resemble a boat, in that they can be floated into a pothole or marsh. Sinking the blind is accomplished by filling it with water. Anchoring the blind with concrete or nailing it to poles that are concreted into the marsh bottom keeps the base of the blind below the water.
Another method of sinking a semi-pit is building "wings" of lumber around the base and weighting them with plastic sacks filled with mud or sand. Bundles of native grasses held together with string or tape can be woven into fence wire surrounding the top of the blind. Many hunters build top frames that can be swung inward or outward for easier shooting depending upon the direction of the wind and the way the birds are working to the decoys. When you build a bench into both sides of the blind, the blind becomes "ambidextrous," which greatly adds to a shooter's ability to set out an effective decoy pattern.
PORTABLE BLINDS Portable
blinds are facts of waterfowling for sportsmen who hunt on public lands. They are also great tools for hunting on private lands where blinds cannot be built or when first hunting any area. By using portable blinds for a season or two, you can determine the best location for a permanent blind before expending the time, money and effort required to build one.
The disadvantage of any permanent blind is that it may be placed in an area or orientated in a position that does not provide the best shooting. Moving it or building another blind requires a lot of work. Therefore, it only makes sense to hunt from a portable blind until you get to know a location through trial and error.
Building a portable blind can be as simple as tying four mop handles together at the top and draping camouflaged netting over the frame. Similar blinds with metal, plastic or fiberglass frames are available anywhere waterfowl hunting gear is sold. Lightweight and relatively sturdy even in windy conditions, such portable frameworks with net covers are used by many hunters.
When selecting a portable blind, you should be careful to choose a camouflage pattern that blends into the surroundings of the area you plan to hunt. Spraying a few shots of spray paint or adding some tree limbs, reeds or grass can also help break up the outline of a blind. The fabric should be opaque to prevent light from shining through and silhouetting the hunters inside. Care should be taken to situate a portable blind in an area that does not make it stick out and draw attention to the your movements while calling or preparing to shoot. Giving up five yards of range to move a portable blind away from the water's edge and into vegetative cover is usually a good idea. The decreased chance of flaring wary ducks with the out-of-place profile of a poorly placed blind more than makes up for the slightly longer shots.
BOATING In many small-water hotspots, hunting requires the use of boats. Deep-water conditions in beaver ponds, stock tanks, farm ponds or creeks can create difficulties for hunters on foot. Hunting without dogs also calls for utilizing boats in deep water to retrieve downed ducks.
Boats have the advantage of providing portability for lots of decoys and gear. They can also have the disadvantage of having to be hidden. Military surplus netting makes a good covering for a boat or the boat can be painted in natural colors.
Hunters can use a boat not only for transportation, but also as a basis for a blind. Adding fence wire covered with native vegetation or a woven mat of reeds to the front or side of a small boat makes an instant blind. Pulling it onto a bank or soft bottom that may otherwise offer only unstable footing can result in a ready-made blind where you can sit with your gear and dog ready at hand.
KEEPING DRY When a retriever is along, blinds should always be situated with the dog's comfort in mind. A portable tree stand attached to a tree trunk or a manufactured platform made especially for the purpose keeps a dog out of the water. A retriever, in spite of breeding that prepares him for cold conditions, will loose interest in short order if he is made to stand in even a few inches of water.
Likewise, you should situate your blind so that there is no standing water around your feet. A short list of items I have lost while standing in water are duck calls, duck call reeds, shotgun ammunition, electronic training collar transmitters, breakfast, lunch, snacks, gloves, face nets, hats and decoy bags. Even if retrieved from water after a soaking, many of these items are put out of commission for the duration of the hunt.
In a pit, a false floor elevated a few inches above the bottom of the blind can save small objects from a dunking. Even in a shore blind, you need to give some forethought to the problem of water. Soft soil can be churned to a mud puddle during a short morning hunt.
THINK NATURAL The easiest blind of all is one that is manufactured of native vegetation or shoreline cover. Look for natural cover that is not so obvious that it will be subjected to scrutiny by approaching waterfowl. For instance, a stump or the root ball of an overturned tree can provide good cover. But if it is the only high spot on a grass bed or a sandbar, approaching ducks may shy away from it. If it is located among other similar objects, it makes a good makeshift blind.
Reed patches, willow thickets and other shoreline vegetation also provide excellent cover. With natural cover, it often takes only modest rearrangement to create a blind. While many hunters use a machete to add or subtract vegetation in forming a natural blind, pruning shears or a small saw are better equipment for the job. Machete cuts leave sharp-angled points that create hazards to hunters, as well as their waders, coats and retrievers. Clippers or saws make a cut that is blunt, and using either device is much safer than hacking away with a machete in the dark.
Another unique style of natural blind can be built from rocks. Many areas have boulders or stones that can be placed to create a blind. However, piling stones high can create hazards if they collapse onto you, your gear or your dog. A fence-wire framework with steel posts driven into the ground can offer support for stone-walled blinds. Using mortar to fill the joints can also result in a blind that is natural and lasts a lifetime.
PLACEMENT Whatever the style of blind you select, keep in mind some basic rules of waterfowl hunting. The prevalent wind direction should come from somewhere behind the blind. Since ducks decoy into the wind, this will allow approaching waterfowl to be easily seen, while offering frontal shots. However, in thick timber, wind may not be a factor.
The direction to sunrise is an important consideration. If ducks are expected to approach the blind before dawn in heavy cover, you may want to have dawn situated behind the decoys so shots will be silhouetted in the glow.
However, on open water areas or when shooting is expected to continue after sunrise, you should be certain the blind is not facing the sun. Nothing impairs accuracy more than the sun glaring in your eyes. Also, sunlight shining directly into a blind helps ducks spot hunters' faces and movements, thus alarming them into flaring away when they are still well out of shooting range.
Good footing and visibility across the shooting zone should always be on your mind when situating a blind. Poor foot placement or the inability to move the feet while turning the body to face approaching birds is a shortcut to a miss. A single blade of grass across a gun barrel or a lone reed shaft blocking the swing of a shotgun across the approach pattern of a decoying duck can result in missing an easy shot or even preventing the shot. Therefore, taking a few seconds for a couple of practice mounts and swinging a shotgun across the approach area should be the final tests of any blind before shooting light arrives.
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