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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

Thompson places most of his full-body decoys along the shoreline, but he also uses several full-body decoys mounted on hardwood dowels in the water. He sets only floaters on the outside edge of the spread and gradually increases the number of full-body decoys closer to the bank. “The main reason I made the extension poles for my full-body decoys was to create movement throughout my spread,” Thompson continues. “Unless you’ve got a really stiff wind, floating decoys don’t move very much. But when you have several full-body decoys mounted on motion stakes mixed in with your floaters, the slightest breeze will make your whole spread look alive. Working ducks can’t tell how deep the water is, so there’s no reason why you can’t stake birds farther out in the water than they could naturally stand.”

Flooded Timber and Swamps

World champion Canada goose caller Kelley Powers grew up hunting and guiding waterfowl hunters in the river bottoms of west Tennessee. When the Forked Deer and Obion rivers spill out of their banks, flooding extensive tracts of harvested croplands and bottomland hardwood forest, the region offers some of the finest mallard hunting in the lower Mississippi Flyway. And on most sunny mornings during the duck season, Powers and his two brothers, John Ed and Tripp, can be found guiding hunters in the flooded timber near their brand new duck lodge in Midway, Tennessee.

Powers hunts a variety of flooded timber habitats on both public and private land. In seasonally flooded bottomland forest, commonly known as “green timber,” he and his clients conceal themselves by leaning against trees in the shade cast by the rising sun. In deeper waters such as permanently flooded cypress swamps, he relies on boat blinds or permanent blinds for concealment. When it comes to decoys, Powers believes that visibility is essential in any flooded timber environment. “Ducks often go to the first decoy spread they see,” he says. “I have seen it over and over again in places like Reelfoot Lake. A flock of ducks will see a good decoy spread, and it’s like they get tunnel vision. That’s why I use the biggest decoys I can find. I would much rather have 30 super magnum decoys than 100 standard-size decoys because birds are going to be able to see the super magnums from much farther away, especially in flooded timber.”

Powers typically uses a spread of 75 to 150 decoys, depending on the size of the hole that he’s hunting. Mallards make up most of his rig, although he also mixes in a few dozen black duck decoys for extra visibility. “I have aerial photos of decoys that are black and decoys that are painted exactly like real ducks, and the black decoys show up a lot better,” he says. “I also repaint my mallard decoys to have greater contrast between darker and lighter colors.”

He places most of his decoys on the upwind side of the hole to give working birds plenty of room to land without feeling crowded. “When ducks are resting in the woods, they usually swim back into the trees where there’s more cover, so I put some decoys back in the timber around the hole,” Powers says. “I also set my decoys in tight bunches with singles and pairs scattered between the main groups of decoys. This has a more natural, relaxed look than decoys that are spaced the same distance apart.”

Powers believes that decoy motion is especially important while hunting in flooded timber. “Ducks recognize that stationary decoys are fakes, so you’ve got to put some ripples on the water while birds are working,” he advises. “I have used just about every kind of motion decoy you can imagine, but it’s still hard to beat a good jerk string. I hook up a dozen or more decoys rigged on wire spreaders, and with one pull, I can put ripples throughout most of my decoys. I also use several bilge pump-style butt feeders. They are easy to operate and look just like ducks tipping up, which is always a good look to have in your decoys.”

For more information about the outfitters mentioned in this story, call Tony Toye at 608-375-7447, Jake Latendresse at 308-355-2793, and Kelley Powers at 731-885-5056. For detailed instructions on how to make deep-water extension poles for full-body decoys, see the article “Raising the Stakes” by Jim Thompson at www.averyoutdoors.com.

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