"Our best shooting comes early. Ducks are usually in the air when shooting time arrives," McCoy continues. "When we see a flight, we'll all start barking and grunting with our natural voices to make gadwall calls ('nat, nat, na'"). When they hear those sounds and see the motion down on the still water, they usually come in with little suspicion."
Thirty to 40 minutes after shooting time begins, when daylight gets brighter, the hunters make a fundamental change in their decoys. They reposition their wing-spinners behind them in the trees. "When the ducks get a better look at our Robo Ducks, they tend to shy away from them, so we move them back in the cover. We still want that glint of movement, something to catch their eye but not as obvious and in their face as wings flashing out in the wide open."
Later in the season, when mallards start showing up, these hunters may add a half-dozen mallard decoys out to the side of the gadwalls, but they don't "corrupt" the gadwall spread with mallards. Also, they never call to gadwalls with mallard calls.
Malone's and McCoy's methods are proven through years of testing. "We've got another group of hunters that sets up near us on occasion, and they just toss out mallard decoys and blow mallard calls at the gadwalls," McCoy relates. "With our gadwall spread and subtle calling, we kill a lot more birds than they do. And this is because of how we hunt, not where we hunt. A few times they've beaten us to our hole, so we've set up in their spot, and we still kill more than they do. By setting out a natural-looking spread, using motion judiciously, and making subtle gadwall calls, we get 'em to pour in."
Larry Smittle: Fewer, Bigger Decoys for Open Water
Larry Smittle specializes in boat-blind hunting on Oklahoma's Lake Eufaula and Kerr Reservoir. Both these lakes offer big wide-open water, where passing mallards and other ducks can see and be seen for hundreds of yards. Thus, Smittle's spread is geared toward high visibility – large profile and sharply contrasting colors. This combination has paid off in spades over the past couple of seasons.
"I'm a big fan of oversized decoys," Smittle says. "Passing ducks can spot 'em from longer distances. Plus with big decoys, you don't have to put out as many. This cuts down on work and time when setting out your spread or changing locations."
Smittle's open-water spread consists of nine Canada goose floaters, 12 super- magnum mallards, six super-magnum black ducks and 12 super-magnum bluebill decoys. In the early season, he will also set out 24 coot decoys. Coots are abundant on Oklahoma lakes in November and December.
Typically, Smittle will hunt from a Fast Grass-covered boat anchored next to a cattail island out in the lake. With the wind at his back, he will deploy his decoys in distinct groups: mallards and black ducks off one corner of the blind and bluebills off the other corner (leaving an open hole between the two groups), Canada geese to the side of the mallards, and coots in a long downwind string leading into the open hole. The last coot decoy may be 100 yards from the boat.
"Everything is geared toward high visibility," Smittle explains. "The Canada geese are big, dark decoys that passing ducks can see from a long distance. The super- magnum ducks stand out a lot better than standard decoys or magnums. The black ducks are a lot more obvious at long distance than decoys with regular colors. And the same is true of the bluebill decoys. That black-and-white contrast on the bluebills really stands out." (In the early season, Smittle frequently adds four pintail drakes in with his mallards and black ducks for the visibility afforded by this species' mottled white coloration.)