November 04, 2016
Even though waterfowl seasons are just getting started through the Southeast in November, most migratory ducks have heard lots of calling, seen numerous decoy spreads and even dodged some pellets. Careful hunters can coax these educated birds into decoys, while the careless often go home with a thin bag.
Successfully decoying ducks into shooting range involves many variables, incuding concealment of boats and hunters, employing effective decoy spreads, knowing when and how much to call, and avoiding movement.
Duck hunting venues vary greatly, as do the techniques for hunting them. But whether the hunting involves big water, small water or even fields, the basics remain pretty much the same.
HIDING BOAT, BLIND AND HUNTERS
The objective when building a blind or adapting a boat for duck hunting is hiding hunters. The well-camouflaged ones fool some of the ducks. In big water, often the only choice is shooting from the boat. Here is where traditional sneak boats and modern pop-up boat blinds do a good job. Nonetheless, hiding the boat and, where possible, moving a few yards away in the grass or bushes will often improve success rates. The birds will see the boat but may not read danger.
Stationary blinds, on the other hand, do a good job of hiding hunters but some of them are pretty obvious. Deluxe fixed blinds equipped with heaters and comfortable chairs are certainly a luxury, but most hunters would probably shoot more ducks by setting spreads where the ducks want to be that day and hiding in natural vegetation.
Now the main concern with hiding in natural surroundings is concealing the silhouette. When setting up in the trees, tall grass or along shorelines, hunters should pick a place that will disguise their outline by backing up against tree trunks or other vegetation and remaining motionless.
Some hunters just randomly deploy a bunch of generic decoys, often mallards, and they shoot some ducks. But the right kind and the right number of decoys, according to the situation, are important. In tidal creeks and small streams, it is typical for just a few ducks to sit together, and incoming flights may be just a couple of birds.
Spreads of seven decoys would be enough in these types of locations, while in very small spots, such as a 6-foot-wide tidal creek or a wooded stream, three may be the right number. In moving water, ducks rarely stay out in the middle, but rather loaf along edges, so anchor a couple of attention getters or a motion decoy in the middle as if they just landed, but float the rest near the edges.
Big, open water applications often call for a boatload of decoys, including several motion decoys. Jay Lovell and friends generally hunt tidal freshwater above brackish areas, using high tide to access productive spots. In these large flooded marshes, where there is a lot of competition from other hunters and sometimes preserves and private impoundments, it takes a sizable spread of decoys to make an impression.
Lovell uses a mixed spread that includes 12 to 18 gadwalls because of big increases in local populations, plus pintails, widgeon, ringnecks, teal and blacks. He arranges gadwall, pintail and widgeon decoys in roughly a J-hook with the ringnecks clustered to one side and teal in a tight bunch nearby.
Because blacks and mottled ducks are especially spooky, he isolates them closer to cover. He uses an assortment of five Wonderduck motion decoys and generally avoids whirling wing decoys since they can make educated birds flair. Theories about decoy placement abound but probably the most important point is leaving a space for incoming ducks to land within the spread.
Ducks do not make a lot of noise when sitting on the water. Geese, however, make a racket when looking at their friends in feeding areas, and hen mallards can carry on a nice conversation from time to time, but gadwall, teal, woodies, pintails, scaup and most other ducks make only the softest sounds during their normal day. The objective of calling is to get passing ducks to look at your decoys and coax them in.
Calling is essential for consistent action, but in most instances, except maybe flooded timber hunting, an occasional highball to get ducks to look at decoys, and then a few soft quacks or clucks to coax the close-passing ones into range, is all that is required. Learn a few common calls but try not to scare the birds away with excessive calling.
MOVEMENT AND PATIENCE
A person with mediocre eyesight easily spots a small group of 5-pound ducks moving across the sky at a range of a half-mile or more. Ducks' eyes are especially good at spotting movement and a man is about 40 times bigger than a duck. Once ducks are visible, hunters must stay still, even keeping shiny faces down until birds are within shooting range.
When ducks fully commit and come straight for the spread, don't stand up when they are 50 yards out. Learn to stay motionless until they are in range with their wings cupped. Then, stand up, shoulder the gun and fire in a continuous motion before they get onto the water. That is the essence of shooting over decoys.
Correct choke for ducks
In the 1980s regulations changed to mandate non-toxic shot. The transition to shooting steel shot effectively was difficult because of misinformation. Hunters quickly found out that giant pellets were not the answer; faster velocities are better up to a point and full chokes don't work well. Steel pellets are lighter than lead but are so hard they can damage gun barrels.Thick, hard wads protect barrels but don't expand easily, causing patterns too tight for effective shooting.
Those who can afford the softer bismuth shells, which approximate lead shot performance, can tighten up to a full choke to try 50-yard sky bursts, but most can't hit anything that far away. The rest should stick with a fast steel load in about a No. 3 size shot, an improved or modified choke, and shots less than 40 yards for ducks.