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."
9. Paul Sullivan, Pasco, WA
A professional guide for 35 years, Sullivan is also co-owner of Aero Outdoors, which manufactures Full-Curl Decoys. He hunts the same pond 80 to 90 days of the Pacific Flyway's 107-day season. "Our ducks get very shy in the latter half of the season," Sullivan says, "but here's what we do to continue to enjoy good shooting.
"First, we use realistic decoys," he explains. "Second, we cut way back on our calling. And third, we relocate the blind around the pond. (Sullivan hunts from a tube-framed blind that can easily be moved.) I don't want the ducks to figure out that the calling is coming from the same clump of brush," he explains.
Also, Sullivan doesn't place much emphasis on water movement, but he does use a Flutter-Wing motion decoy mounted on a pole inside the spread. (When he pulls a string, the wings flap.) "I can pull it and let it rest when I want to," he says. "When it's resting, the wings always reposition so the dark side is up and the white side is down."
Sullivan says the main thing to remember for decoy-shy ducks is not to show them the same setup every day. "Change the number of decoys and the shape of the spread," he advises. "Move the blind. Just keep changing things up so the birds don’t get used to the same old set day after day."