Wildfowling magazine - wildfowling waterfowling duck hunting goose shooting
High Tech Duck Hunting
by T R Michels

For the widest selection of shooting and fishing books, Click Here

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 something different.

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. 

T.R. 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: trmichels@yahoo.com  


For the widest selection of shooting and fishing books, Click Here

Gundog Training Broadsheets