Big Rigs: Going for Numbers
The famed Grasslands Water District of California's San Joaquin Valley is among the most important wintering areas for waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. A large proportion of the remaining wetlands in the region are found on private duck clubs, which are intensively managed to provide excellent habitat conditions for waterfowl and other wildlife. Not surprisingly, waterfowlers in the Grasslands take their duck hunting very seriously, and they go to great lengths to ensure that they enjoy good shooting.
A prime example is Bob Nardi, a private wetlands management consultant and the owner of a 200-acre duck club in the heart of the Grasslands. He sets a massive rig of 3,000 pintail decoys on a large open pond on his property. "Our objective is to use enough decoys to make our club look like a closed zone," Nardi explains. "We use almost entirely pintail decoys because they are the most abundant duck in our area. All species decoy readily to our spread because they are accustomed to seeing large concentrations of pintails, especially on refuges."
Nardi and his partners hunt from three sunken concrete blinds that provide them with almost complete concealment amid sparse flooded vegetation. The blinds are set in a triangle pattern, enabling the group to hunt different areas of the pond in different conditions. Nardi surrounds the blinds with decoys set in a large circle, which covers most of the open water in the pond.
Each morning, he resets enough decoys to open a hole about 40 yards across to serve as a landing zone adjacent to the blind in which they are hunting. "We're not concerned about the appearance of individual decoys," Nardi says. "The overall look of the spread is more important.
"The beauty of a big spread is that you will draw ducks from miles around. At any given time, we may have 100 pintails working our rig, which attracts other ducks. If you are patient, and don't rush your shots, a vortex of circling ducks will build over your decoys. Then you can sit back and selectively take the species that you want from the circling flocks."
Despite the great drawing power big rigs have on waterfowl, Nardi cautions that they don't guarantee success. "Having good habitat is the most effective way to attract waterfowl. A few years ago, a neighboring duck club put out a big spread, but it didn't work for them because their habitat wasn't in very good shape. After they improved their management practices, they had great shooting."
As the aforementioned experts clearly attest, decoying waterfowl can be a numbers game. Acquiring and maintaining hundreds of decoys, however, can be costly, both in time and money, and large spreads are simply not practical in many places. Nevertheless, for those who do manage to amass a truly big rig, and hunt in an area where it can be put to good use, the rewards can be spectacular.
Other Big Rigs
Russell Caldwell's lost pond spread
Russell Caldwell's big water decoy spread is designed to resemble a large concentration of resting ducks and geese. The bulk of the rig consists of headless, Styrofoam goose bodies painted flat black. Tight groups of these decoys are placed around the blind in a horseshoe configuration. Magnum mallard and motion decoys are positioned around the landing hole located directly downwind of the blind. A group of hand-painted Canada goose decoys is set off to one side for especially wary birds.
Stan Anderson's combination goose rig
Stan Anderson and his hunting partners devised this spread to draw both light and dark geese on the Saskatchewan prairies. Roughly 1,000 homemade windsock decoys are placed in a large mass, resembling a drove of feeding snows, blues, and Ross' geese. Scattered bunches of windsocks-resembling family groups-are set along the periphery of the spread. A separate flock of eight dozen Canada goose shells and silhouettes is set downwind of the windsocks. Shooters are positioned on the edge of the white spread in a parallel line for safety purposes.