I started hunting,
setting decoys and calling ducks, over forty years ago. I was good
enough with a duck call at age five that my dad would stick a
Mallardtone call in my mouth, set me on a nail keg in the slough and
tell me to, "bring 'em in." My uncle used to say, "If you bring 'em
in any closer I could reach up and grab their legs." I don't think I
was quite that good, but I could usually turn a flock and get them
to land. I like to think I've learned a few things since then and I
know I've found a few techniques that attract ducks.
One of my favorite
ways to hunt for puddle ducks, mallards in particular, is to locate
a small slough that holds good numbers of birds before the season. I
pattern the flights of the birds in windy weather, to find out where
they like to land and feed. My favorite spot was on small opening in
the middle of a mile long cattail slough that ran along a flooded
creek bed. On one end of the cattails was a lake with a pass and a
duck shack where a couple of friends of mine hunted. On the other
end the creek was open with a couple of larger sloughs. I would go
out in the evening and sit on a hill overlooking the entire area and
watch the ducks fly from the bigger sloughs and the lake to my
slough on windy days. Even if the wind wasn't strong there were
always a few ducks in the slough, usually kicked out of the other
sloughs or off the lake by other hunters. It was kind of a refuge
for the ducks.
I only hunted the
slough on weekends, when the other hunters kept the birds moving.
Sooner or later they always found their way to my slough, it was the
only place they could rest. I never hunted there on weekdays; I let
the birds rest and feel secure all week long. I'd get up early and
set up 2-3 dozen decoys ten to fifteen yards outside of the
cattails, on whichever side of the slough the wind was coming from.
Then I would pull my 17 foot square stern Grumman canoe into the
cattails, just slightly downwind of the decoys, break a few reeds
over the gunwales and wait.
I always put my
Herter's decoys in a "J" pattern, leaving a "hole" in the middle
where the birds could land with the hook of the "J" pointed upwind,
and the tail on the open water side, inviting the ducks to land
close to my hunting position in the "hole." I never liked to put the
canoe directly in front of the decoys, there was too much chance of
the birds seeing me or any movement I made when I was calling or
getting ready to shoot. I figured if I were off to the side of the
decoys, while the ducks were looking at the hole in front of them,
they probably wouldn't notice me.
As I watched the
ducks before the season I noticed that they never sat in a "J"
shape, but usually clustered in family groups early in the season
and in small flocks later on. But the "J" seemed to work to get
ducks to land where I wanted them, so I kept using it. I usually put
two decoys near my shooting position and used a Heron and some Coot
"confidence" decoys near my spread. On windy days, or when other
hunters pushed the birds around, I usually went home with a couple
of mallards and some teal.
This technique works
well during the first part of the season, until the "locals" get
smart, and it works on early season migrants. But ducks and geese
learn that the season is open in a very short time. They know where
they'll get shot at, what decoys spreads to avoid, and which calls
and callers to avoid. A shiny gun barrel, thermos bottle, shell
casing, pair of glasses, or white shiny face, is enough to send even
the youngsters downwind in a hurry. This is when it's time to try
Once the birds get
call shy and decoy sour I usually change calls, call less, and I
change my decoy spread. I start using only drakes in my setup
because the brighter colors and contrast can be seen farther away. I
may use more teal, pintails and gadwalls than mallards. Whichever
species I see frequently I put out. Sometimes I use only one or two
decoys and choose small sloughs to hunt. When every other hunter is
using more decoys I've found that the ducks are more willing to come
to a smaller spread, especially in more secluded waters.
One of the things
many decoy spreads lack is movement, and movement attracts ducks.
Ducks are constantly swimming, bobbing for food and stretching their
wings. When there is no wind and no decoy movement I flag the ducks.
When I first see began flagging ducks I waved a square of dark cloth
on a broom handle to get their attention. Now I use one of Randy
'Flag Man" Bartz's new duck flags. I start out by waving it as high
in the air as I can. Once they ducks begin to come my way, I lower
the flag and use it less frequently. If they veer off I start
flagging again. Once I can see their colors I quit flagging and rely
mostly on the call.
For more movement I
attach a string to an eye hook on the bill of one of my decoys, run
it through an eye hook on a heavy anchor below the decoy and back to
the blind. I pull on the string whenever I need movement. This works
well on duck butt decoys too. If you want continuous movement you
can use one of the motorized decoys in the Herter's catalog. They
offer the Flutter Duck Motion decoy and the Shaker decoy. To add the
realism of landing ducks I use 3 or 4 flying decoys attached to a
conduit or PVC pipe painted dull gray or tan. When incoming flocks
see other landing ducks it makes them feel more secure, and may get
them to come to the decoys.
Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher/wildlife
behaviorist, and outdoor writer and speaker, who has been
researching game animals for several years. He is the author of the
Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals.
His latest products are the 2002 Revised Edition of the Whitetail
Addict's Manual, the 2002 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's
Manual; and the 2002 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose
Addict's Manual. For a catalog of books and other hunting
products contact: T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box
284, Wanamingo, MN 55983, USA. Phone: 507-824-3296. E-mail: