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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Super Spreads for Ducks

Surefire strategies for setting decoys in classic habitats
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Story at a Glance

Habitat types discussed in this feature:

  • Big Water Points and Islands
  • Rivers, Streams, and Sloughs
  • Ponds and Potholes
  • Flooded Timber and Swamps

In most cases, Toye hunts with the wind at a quartering angle to his blind. “I like to hunt crosswinds because it keeps the birds’ attention focused on the decoys and off the blind,” he says. “I put the bulk of my decoys upwind and then run a long line of decoys downwind past the blind. We don’t shoot until flocks set up to land just upwind of the blind. This forces birds to flare right over us, giving us good, clean shots.”

Toye’s decoy spread reflects the diversity of waterfowl that congregate on Pool 9 in fall. “I typically use about a 50-50 ratio of diver and puddle duck decoys,” he says. “I use drake canvasback and bluebill decoys in the tail of the rig, and I put my puddle ducks in a big group to form the hook. I like to set a few dozen Canada geese on the inside of the divers and mix a few geese in with my puddle duck decoys. Everything feeds together on the river, so it doesn’t hurt to mix species. I also like to bunch my decoys up tight to look like actively feeding birds.”

As an added enticement, Toye sets two spinning-wing decoys among the puddle ducks and positions a Mallard Machine motion decoy system in the landing hole just upwind of the blind. As a finishing touch, he places a few swan decoys on the upwind edge of the spread. “The swans provide a little extra visibility,” he says. “There are a lot of swans on the river, so they seem to work well as confidence decoys.”

Rivers, Streams, and Sloughs

Waterfowl guide and Avery pro-staffer Jake Latendresse grew up duck hunting in the Camden Bottoms of northwest Tennessee but recently relocated to the Nebraska Panhandle. He has no regrets about making the move, especially in late fall when heavy flights of red-legged mallards sweep down from the northern plains.

“We have some good hunting during the first half of the season on local birds and early migrants, but the best hunting begins around Thanksgiving or the first week of December when our wintering mallards show up,” Latendresse says. “The rivers and warm-water sloughs stay open most of the season, and there’s lots of corn left in surrounding fields for mallards to feed on. It has to get really cold or we have to get a major snowstorm to push birds out of this area.” 

Latendresse primarily guides on the historic North Platte River. This shallow, meandering river system is constantly changing course, creating new braided channels as water levels rise and the current cuts into sandy banks. The myriad oxbows, side channels, and spring-fed sloughs along the North Platte are prime habitat for mallards seeking sheltered places to loaf during the day. Latendresse scouts extensively for concentrations of resting waterfowl by running the river in a shallow-drafting johnboat equipped with a Go-Devil mud motor. For concealment, he uses Avery Finishers and Neo Tubs brushed with natural vegetation from the hunting area.

“I like being right in the middle of the action,” Latendresse says. “Whenever possible, I set my blinds in flooded weeds right at the water’s edge. This allows us to hide in the ducks’ comfort zone instead of having to set up on the bank away from the water where we would have longer shots.” 

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