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Late-Season Decoy Spreads

Overcoming the challenges of winter waterfowling requires both realism and creativity.
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Ducks and Geese on Free-Flowing Rivers

Jim Reid hunts on the Arkansas River northwest of his home in Wichita, Kansas. He says that late in the season, when local wetlands and ponds freeze over, mallards and Canada geese flock to this free-flowing river in large numbers. Reid sets up to hunt where he finds the right combination of open water, a favorable wind, and good cover.

“We’ve studied how the birds pack around open water, sitting on adjacent ice or frozen sandbars,” Reid says. “They gang up in some really big numbers, so we use a lot of decoys—75 to 100 ducks and up to 50 geese. Most are shells or full-body field decoys on motion stakes. When it is cold, birds rest very close to each other, so this is how we arrange our decoys. We also put two or three dozen duck floaters in the water, and the final touch is a wing-spinner or two near the ice or sand where we want ducks to land.”

Reid typically places his duck decoys in a crescent shape with the goose decoys clustered upwind at the head of the set. “You have to leave plenty of open water for the birds to land,” he advises. “If there’s just a little open water available, we’ll cut back on the floaters. It’s a sight to behold when 200 or 300 mallards are backpedaling down into your landing area.” 

Don’t Show the Same Spread Twice

Marc Pierce of Manhattan, Montana, owns a spring-fed creek that remains open in the late season, and mallards flock to it when adjacent wetlands freeze over. Pierce frequently hunts from the same blind on the inside of a horseshoe bend on the creek. “I’m hunting many of the same ducks day after day, so I continually change my decoy spread so the birds don’t get used to the same look,” he says.

One day Pierce may put out 36 mallard decoys divided into two groups. The next day he may set out a dozen mallards, a few goldeneyes, and two or three Canada geese. The following morning he might deploy a handful of ducks and a blue heron confidence decoy or a spinning-wing decoy.

“I’m constantly giving the ducks a new look,” he explains. “And I try to make my spread look as natural as possible. If I’m hunting in the morning when more ducks are usually on the creek, I put out a larger spread. If I’m out for a quick afternoon hunt, there are usually fewer ducks around then, so I go with just a few decoys. I’ve been places where guides hunt every day in the same spot over the same spread, and I think ducks get wary of this show. But I don’t give them a chance to get suspicious on my little creek. They never see the same spread twice.”

Pierce also uses the most lifelike decoys he can purchase. “What my spread lacks in size, it makes up for in realism,” he adds.

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