Try these tips for taking more mallards — America’s favorite duck species.
Mallards are the 190-inch whitetail buck of the duck world. Experience, commitment, skill, hard work and persistence — that’s what puts greenheads in the boat.
Duck hunters have never had it as good as they do now, in terms of equipment. From ultra-realistic decoys to invisible blinds to boats that get gunners to places that used to be unreachable, 21st century waterfowl gear can help make a limit of mallards more likely for those working their way up from luck to experience.
THE ALLURE OF THE COOTS
Anyone who has hunted mallards for more than a single season has watched flock after flock after flock ignore even the most painstakingly crafted spread, only to land 200 yards away with what? Two dozen coots.
With few exceptions, waterfowlers seldom if ever target coots, but ducks, mallards included, love coots. Or, rather, ducks love the way coots feed and the security these birds provide. Coots are quite messy feeders, leaving a trail of crumbs — pieces of grass and other vegetation — in their wake.
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Coots also have a way of stirring up the bottom in shallow water, uncovering a host of invertebrates, snails, clams and crustaceans. Mallards know this. So for much the same reason ducks gravitate to swans, mallards will sidle up to coots, knowing full well a meal’s in the offing.
Duck hunters take advantage of this symbiotic relationship by setting a dozen coot decoys off to one side of their traditional mallard spread. Rigged in a tight group, coots scream “Food!” to dabblers passing by.
SCOUTING: THE 9 O’CLOCK FLIGHT
Very often a flock of mallards, having spent the night on an established roost, will depart for the field, or maybe even grass-filled backwaters, looking to fill their bellies for the day. After they feed, some will return to the roost, while others in small groups will disperse over a broad area.
It’s this late-morning dispersal period that hunters often overlook. A small mid-morning loafing pond, beaver swamp or secluded hard-to-get-to corner of a public marsh rigged with a dozen floaters can prove exceptional.
And this is where keeping an eye on the 9 o’clock flight pays off.
Where do they go? When do they get there? Close observation is key. Mid-morning loafing areas aren’t chosen randomly, and are often quite specific. A slack-water shallow bend in a river might be devoid of birds; however, the mirror image a quarter-mile downstream holds plenty of ducks over the lunch hour. In-depth scouting, scouting and more scouting is paramount to mid-morning success.
THE MAGIC OF MOTION
If you hunt ducks, you’re familiar with spinning wing decoys, or spinners, for short. Some love ’em. Some hate ’em. Regardless of the sentiment, these technological marvels took the waterfowling world by storm when they were introduced in the late 1990s. Perched on poles, floating on doughnut-esque tubes, even sliding down wires — there’s nothing old-fashioned about 21st century spinners.
But spinners aren’t the only way to put motion into an otherwise static mallard spread.
For many, the tried-and-true jerk cord (aka jerk string) is an absolute must-have, especially on those painfully still, windless days when the decoys look as if they were sitting atop a mirror.
Commercial jerk cords — such as Rig ’Em Right’s Step Up Jerk Rig — are available, or you can put in some time making your own. Two to five decoys per cord is the norm, with lightweight water keel blocks being preferred for their ease of movement and bounce.
Enterprising hunters will sometimes attach a modified jerk cord to their spinner stake. The rotating wings vibrate the stake, which in turn tugs on the cord in short energetic bursts.
The decoy itself is anchored snuggly under tension, allowing the vibration to jostle the decoy and create those mallard-attracting surface ripples. One or two such combo-rigs, along with a traditional hand-operated jerk cord, is often more than enough to impart all the motion necessary to bring an otherwise dead spread to life.