Ed McCoy, Ross Malone: Swamp Setup for Gadwalls
Ed McCoy and Ross Malone hunt in a beaver swamp that borders the Tennessee River in north Alabama, which is a major wintering area for gadwalls. This swamp rises adjacent to the main river channel. Each morning at first light, many of these "gray ducks" fly into the swamp to feed. Several times each season, McCoy, Malone, and their cohorts are waiting there with a decoy setup designed specifically to lure these birds into close range.
"We've done a lot of experimenting over the years, and the system we've come up with is very effective," McCoy explains. "It's based on the fact that movement is very important, but you can overdo it. We start out with a lot of movement at shooting time, then we tone it down as the light gets brighter and the ducks get a better look."
These hunters' spread consists of 21 decoys, including a dozen tied onto two jerk strings, two wing-spinners, four wobbling decoys, one swimmer, and two regular floating decoys. All these decoys are gadwalls except the wing-spinners, which are mallards.
McCoy and Malone use such a small spread for two reasons. First, access into the swamp is difficult. They wade in, pulling a loaded canoe over several beaver dams. A smaller spread is easier to transport. And second, these hunters believe that motion is more important than numbers. Experience has taught them that there is no real need for more blocks than the 21 they put out.
They arrive at their hole approximately an hour before shooting time, and job one is to rig the jerk strings. "We use Jerk-A-Spreaders, which are X-shaped frames that accommodate four decoys each," Malone says. "We'll rig two jerk strings, one with one frame (four decoys) and the other with two frames (eight decoys).
"We rig these jerk strings by jamming a piece of conduit into the mud, looping a bungee cord around it, then running a heavy line from the opposite end of the bungee cord. The decoy frames are attached to this line. When you tug on the line, all the decoys move and make ripples."
The other decoys are placed around the jerk strings. The wing-spinners are set on poles within 10 yards of the hunters' hiding spots behind the trees at the edge of the hole. The wobblers, floaters, and lone swimmer are dropped adjacent to the jerk strings. The hunters are careful to leave an open landing zone between the two groups of decoys.