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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Late-Season Decoy Spreads

Overcoming the challenges of winter waterfowling requires both realism and creativity.
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Canadas in Snow-Covered Fields

Late in the season, Canada geese feed in large concentrations, often in snow-covered fields.

When snow falls, Avery pro-staffer Tyson Keller of Pierre, South Dakota, sets as many decoys as he can put out. Keller and his hunting partners frequently deploy 300 to 500 decoys, although 100 to 150 decoys will suffice for most hunters in this situation.

“We mainly use shell decoys and full-bodies without the foot bases, and we set them right on the snow,” Keller notes. “When Canada geese come into a snowy cornfield, they will sit down soon after they hit the ground; they’re not up walking around. So having the shells and full-body decoys sitting on the snow looks natural.”

Keller arranges his spread in a pear shape with the narrow end pointed downwind. Decoys are concentrated close together in the upwind part of the spread. In the downwind part, Keller sets small, tight family clusters with plenty of open space between them. He also mixes in a few full-body decoys with foot stands on the edges of these groups to simulate geese walking from one group to another. His layout blinds (with snow covers) are aligned in the spread about a third of the way from the upwind edge, facing the open landing areas just downwind.

“We kick down the snow and root up dirt to look like feeding activity around the main group of decoys, but we’re careful not to disturb the snow cover around the blinds,” Keller adds. 

Coastal Marsh Spread for Ducks

Chester Moore of Orange, Texas, hunts coastal marshes in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. He says that by January, ducks are wary from hunting pressure, and when the birds get tough, most hunters respond by setting bigger spreads. But several seasons ago, Moore discovered that with heavily hunted ducks, using fewer decoys worked better than using more. “I was running late one morning, and as I went out the door, I grabbed just one sack of decoys,” he says. I had a great shoot over them, and that experience led to what I call my ‘Dirty Dozen’ spread, which I continue to use during the late season.”

Moore’s spread consists of eight magnum mallard hen decoys and four drake blue-winged teal decoys. He says the hen mallards will attract any large puddle ducks—gadwalls, mottled ducks, shovelers, and greenheads—and the white crescents on the teal capture passing birds’ attention.

Moore looks for small potholes to set his dozen decoys. He hides on the upwind edge of the pothole. As he faces downwind, the mallard decoys are clumped in the upper right portion of the pothole, while the teal are set in a line on his left, angling toward the mallards. He leaves a 10-yard landing zone between the two groups.

“I want it to look like the teal have just come in and are swimming to the big ducks,” Moore explains. “I don’t know why this spread works so well, but it does.”

Ducks on Big Reservoirs

In the early season, Mark Mayes of Madisonville, Kentucky, usually hunts in nearby river bottoms and swamps. But as the season progresses and these shallow waters freeze, Mayes heads to Barkley Lake, a Corps of Engineers reservoir on the Cumberland River, and he hunts from the bank where both puddle ducks and divers are trading.

“We look for a small point that juts out into the lake, somewhere that’s not directly exposed to a strong wind,” Mayes says. “I especially like a spot where the breeze is blowing parallel to the bank so we have a crosswind setup. We put out a large spread—up to 10 dozen magnum mallards and 18 canvasbacks or bluebills. We want a lot of visibility because we’re frequently trying to pull ducks from long distances.”

Mayes sets his mallards in a large random cluster on the upwind side of the point. Then he drops two or three decoys along the bank and downwind from the main body in the spot where he wants incoming ducks to land. “These look like ducks that have just come in and are swimming into the main body,” he explains.

Mayes sets diver decoys just a couple of feet outside the main body of mallards. “When mallards come over the lake, the first thing they see is the white on the diver decoys,” he says. “Then when the birds get closer, they can see the rest of the spread. A lot of times they’ll hook downwind and come right in without circling.”

Snow Geese during Spring Migration

Avery pro-staff member Martin Hesby of Brookings, South Dakota, gets serious about hunting snow geese, especially when they are migrating back north in early spring. Hesby’s favorite time to hunt snows is when northerly winds temporarily halt the migration and cause the birds to stick around for a few days in a roosting and feeding pattern.

When Hesby finds where a flock is feeding, he deploys his “cigar spread.” “We set out 400 to 1,500 full-body decoys, about 40 percent blue geese and 60 percent snows,” he says. “We set these in a cigar shape with the ends oriented downwind and upwind. We set our layout blinds in a line four-fifths of the way up the spread from the downwind edge. Then, below the blind line, we pack decoys very tightly 15 yards downwind and from one side of the spread to the other. We leave a 20-yard open space with just a scattering of decoys on the very outside edges. This is our landing hole.

“Below the landing zone is another 20 yards of massed decoys,” he continues. “Both these masses look like geese thronged together on good food sources. From there all the way back to the downwind edge of the spread, we set family groups of four to eight decoys, arranged like they’re walking toward the masses.”

Hesby says incoming geese overfly the lower part of the spread to get to the landing hole. Average shots are at birds 10 to 15 yards out and five to 10 yards high. He adds that this same spread design will work with fewer than 400 decoys. “Just keep the same design, but downsize everything,” he advises. “But remember, with snow geese, realism is the key to getting flocks feet down in the decoys, and the more lifelike decoys you have, the more convincing your spread usually is.”

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