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Banding Together for Waterfowl

10 Strategies For Decoy-Shy Ducks

Adapting to changes in duck behavior is a key success
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6. Scott Turpen, Clarksville, Tenn.

An Avery Outdoors pro-staffer, Turpen hunts both ducks and Canada geese on farm ponds in middle Tennessee. He sets out a combination of land and water decoys. If birds get decoy-shy, he makes subtle changes to restore their confidence in his spread.

"I'll add up to a dozen full-body duck decoys on the shore, like an extension of my floaters," he says. "I'll set these from the water's edge to 10 yards up the bank and out to the side of my goose decoys. I use Greenhead Gear's new Full Body Rester mallards. I'll set them with their breasts facing the sun, like real birds sit. Late in the season, I also set more hens than drakes to draw in drakes looking for mates, and I use more goose sleeper shells in my spread."

Turpen and his partners call very little to decoy-shy ducks. In fact, they are more prone to cluck occasionally on a goose call than to blow a duck call. And they use no wing-spinners in the late season but rely instead on a Mallard Machine to ripple the water.

7. Mark Schupp, Boonville, Mo.

A layout boat hunter, Schupp hunts ducks mainly in central Missouri. He typically deploys a spread of 120 standard decoys, but at the first indication that ducks are becoming decoy-shy, he changes his spread to find an arrangement the birds like better.

"I may pick up half my decoys and move or spread out those that remain," he says. "I may rearrange them into small groups—a little cluster here, another there. I might move some decoys 75 to 100 yards away, but I still keep the biggest concentration right at my feet. I'll also set some pairs out by themselves. I'll just experiment to find a setup they like."

Schupp adds that if ducks are consistently hitting outside his spread, he leaves his decoys where they are and repositions his layout boat to cover the area where the birds are landing. Or he might set decoys where the ducks want to land, effectively blocking them from hitting that spot, and try to shift the birds toward the center of his spread.

In the process, Schupp calls as little as necessary. "If the birds are coming, I don't call at all," he says. "But if a soft calling approach doesn't work, I'll increase the volume and pick up the cadence. But typically, I'll call less and softer as the season wears on."

8. Geof Walker, Newbury, MA

Walker is a decoy carver and boat builder who carries on the traditions of old-time New England waterfowlers. He hunts in the Great Marsh at the confluence of the Merrimack and Parker rivers in northeastern Massachusetts. He mainly targets black ducks, which live up to their legendary reputation for wariness.

"Black ducks are born decoy-shy," he says, "and a hunter must utilize all his skills to fool these birds consistently. I trade decoys with other carvers, so my hunting spread has decoys with different sizes and attitudes. My most common spread is eight decoys. I'll set two close to the grass, two farther out, and one by itself. Then I'll rig three feeders on a swim line so their beaks are barely touching the water. When the tide's running, they will swing back and forth and ripple the water with a very natural look."

Walker says the slightest gunning pressure will cause black ducks to change locations in the marsh, so his main strategy is simply scouting and following the birds. "Black ducks work different areas of the marsh because they want to," he says. "The decoys simply provide confidence that the spot is safe. Also, I'm a stickler for detail. I don't allow ice to build up on the bills, and I use dark decoy line to match the mud on the marsh bottom. I call sparingly. I know the marsh and where the feed is, and I set up where the birds want to go."

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