Instant Decoy Rigs That Work!
September 24, 2010
Forget about placing dozens of magnum decoys in endless rigs a mathematician couldn't unravel. These quick and easy setups will bring in all the birds you can shoot at in a morning or afternoon hunt.
Multi-decoy waterfowl rigs are great for some situations, such as in the early season when there's a lot of competition from other hunters. But there are times when a small, fast setup of six blocks or less will produce just as much shooting.
In fact, you might even be able to succeed with a handful of decoys where everyone else is using 100-plus blocks. One hunter told me how it happened to him.
"It was unbelievable," said seasoned waterfowler Roger Levine. "Early one afternoon we were leisurely rigging mallard decoys for an evening shoot in a coastal marsh. We had set only about a quarter of our two-dozen decoys when three mallards swung over the marsh and started circling high overhead. I gunned the motor and slid the boat into a cut in the soft bank. By the time we tore open our gun cases and jammed shells into the chambers, the birds were already swimming in the rig!
"Fifteen minutes later more mallards and a black duck cupped in. The action continued throughout the afternoon until all three of us had our limits. We never did set the rest of our decoys. I guess we were where the birds wanted to be."
Here are six proven tips you can use to draw December ducks to small decoy rigs.
SCOUT FOR FAST ACTION Ducks are creatures of habit. Late in the season, migrant birds wing into new areas searching out fresh feeding and resting grounds. Once they've found suitable locations, they'll return to these spots day after day. Resident waterfowl also have very specific flight routes. To discover these locations, scout several hunting areas. Look for puddlers sitting on the water, commuting over a point or alighting to rest or feed. A concentration of bird droppings on ice or shoreline rocks is a giveaway to a recently occupied area.
By taking the time to scout in advance, you'll be able to set a small rig and fill your bag quickly. Under these circumstances, you need to move in fast and set up fast because the birds will make a beeline to their regular hangout. You won't have to labor over a large, complex rig. Just a handful of blocks tucked in a pocket will be all the road map they need.
Photo by Tom Migdalski
TRY GOOSE DECOYS By December, late-season puddle ducks have survived many gun volleys over big rigs of same-species decoys. As a result of having their tails burned so many times, they become like-type decoy-shy. However, they'll usually join geese readily.
This is a spin-off on the time-tested confidence-decoy theory, but in this you're not rigging goose blocks with mallards, you're rigging them instead of mallards. Geese are wary, and mallards know that. They also know that they haven't been sky-busted when they've swung over geese. And while a huge goose rig may intimidate puddlers, a few well-placed Canadas will draw them like snowflakes landing on the ground. And, if the season is still open for geese, you'll have a great chance at that lone honker that's lost its mate.
If you don't have a half-dozen goose decoys, paint some magnum duck decoys in goose patterns. Don't worry about the body shape not being anatomically correct; ducks will key on prominent color patterns. Remember to set your six or eight goose blocks in an area large enough to accommodate real geese. In other words, this trick won't look realistic in that tiny, timber-lined wood duck hole.
In December, ducks sometimes become call-shy, too, especially when everyone in the marsh is blowing a call. When rigging only geese, don't use a duck call. And use a goose call sparingly to draw attention to distant ducks. Once they tip a wing, pocket the call and wait.
SMALL RIGS FOR LOCAL DUCKS Native birds usually travel in small flocks. A long-held rule of thumb is to use only a few decoys to draw local dabblers to small lakes, ponds and river bends. In situations where small flocks have been returning to the same location for weeks, suddenly setting out dozens of decoys may spook birds and drive them to a more natural-looking waterhole.
Resident puddlers are usually easy to draw. This is especially true in December when fewer open-water opportunities are available. Your job is to guide already confident birds within range.
Because resident ducks are familiar with their surroundings, construct a blind by using only local materials, and design it as unobtrusively as possible. If you can, erect your blind a few days in advance to acclimate the ducks to it. And remember, small water usually means shallow water. Use as little extra decoy anchor line as possible so it's hidden from above.
BIG BLOCKS IN CLUTTERED WATER When hunting in water that's surrounded by trees, infested with stumps, broken by rocks or littered with ice chunks, use magnum blocks. While native birds usually need only small decoy numbers to draw them, a handful of decoys are hard to see in congested spots. This is a great time to employ magnums.
You don't want to spend more time than necessary wading or maneuvering a craft in areas loaded with obstructions. The longer you set out or pick up a big spread in the dark, the greater the chances of hitting something and stumbling or falling into icy water.
Another small-rig trick for attracting puddlers to cluttered waters is to set mostly drake decoys. It makes sense that the brightly painted males will stand out better against the backdrop of stumps, rocks or ice. But keep one or two hens in the mix for realism.
USE SHORELINE ICE By December, many of the Northeast's ponds, lakes and streams will be rimmed with ice, a condition that discourages some early-season waterfowlers from attempting a hunt. However, you can set a small, fast and effective spread by emphasizing it with shoreline ice.
On sunny, calm winter days, ducks often rest on ice to bask in the warm sun, which is reflected off the smooth, white surface. A few decoys set on ice look realistic and stand out better than blocks floating on the darker water.
"I used an ice set when hunting a large tidal river loaded with ice floes," said Levine. "We had rigged our normal spread of several dozen water decoys during the incoming tide early one afternoon. Everything was fine, and the birds were starting to trade into the marsh when the tide changed. The outgoin
g current swept a cluster of ice floes downriver. The big ice chunks plowed through the rig and made us jump into the boat to chase our dragging decoys."
But, Levine noted, the problem eventually worked to their advantage. "It was late in the day," he says, "and our rig was ruined. The birds were flying, so we left the recovered decoys in the boat and reset our few remaining blocks on the shoreline ice near our blind. To our surprise, this small, last-minute rig produced two limits of mallards and blacks before sunset."
To try ice sets, construct a blind on an upwind point where the ice rim is narrow, and simply place your handful of blocks in a shoreline pocket where the ice band is wider. Use extreme caution, however, when working on or around ice. In most cases, the masked water is only knee deep, but in areas like coastal marsh channels, the ice along a creek bend might cover a 4- to 8-foot dropoff, especially at high tide. When in doubt, slide the decoys into place with an oar or pole and retrieve them the same way.
SMALL SPREADS FOR DIVERS While most sea ducks and many other divers such as scaup and canvasbacks need huge spreads for reliable tolling, some bay ducks commute and feed in smaller groups. You can enjoy great action on buffleheads, ringnecks, goldeneyes, mergansers and even old squaws by setting a knot of decoys in the right spot. Small coastal islands, rocks, bars and points are good places to try.
If, for example, the divers' feeding destination is a big bay containing shellfish beds, that area may be too large for a shoreline setup and may not offer any other blind possibilities. In that case, rig a half-dozen black-and-white blocks off a nearby point or spit. Your blocks will draw curious divers over for a look, often within range of your blind.
When December rolls around, the ducks that survived the early season are wary and decoy-shy. Don't be afraid to experiment and use nontraditional techniques to convince birds that your blind is where they want to be. When presented in the right spot with the right conditions, small decoy rigs will help you fill your bag quickly and with minimum effort.
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