by Wade Bourne
Biologists who frequently fly over duck country offer useful insight into how blinds and decoy spreads appear from the birds' perspective
One blind had always produced better hunting than others on the lake, and we had never understood why.
It resembled all the other blinds in size and in how it was brushed. Its big open-water decoy spread was no larger than others on the lake, and superior calling wasn't the reason for the blind's success since passing birds often pitched to it when no one was hunting. We just assumed this blind was in the "magic spot" where ducks—for whatever reason—wanted to go.
But then my brother Joe, a former Air Force pilot, came for a visit during hunting season, and we rented a Cessna and flew the length of the lake. From "duck altitude," all the floating blinds were clearly visible, but the decoy spreads were hard to see.
But when we came to the blind, we got an eye-opener. This hunter's decoy spread really stood out. It was much more obvious and grabbed our attention better than the others. The decoys were all magnums, and many were painted flat black. From altitude, those big black decoys were much easier to see, and high-passing birds were evidently drawn to them.
We discovered this because we got a bird's-eye view. We checked our hunting setup from the ducks' perspective, and it made a big difference. The following season we upgraded our spread to resemble our competitor's, and our success rate increased noticeably.
It may not be practical for hunters to rent an airplane and do their own observing and scouting, but they can learn much from others who regularly fly over duck country. Ducks Unlimited biologists Bob Harris (Mississippi) and Mike Checkett (Tennessee) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot/biologist Fred Roetker (Louisiana) have spent hundreds of hours flying at low altitude over prime duck country. Each has seen countless blinds and decoy spreads, observed thousands upon thousands of live ducks on the water, and knows what looks natural from above and what doesn't.
All three are also avid waterfowlers who have applied what they have learned from flying to their own hunting efforts. They specialize in making their blinds and decoy spreads appear as natural as possible and have learned that doing so pays big dividends.