3. Put Your Retriever on Remote Control
(Ed Aycock, D.V.M., Texas)
A retriever that is steady to wing and shot is a considerable asset for several reasons. A steady dog is less prone to flare birds and can be stationed away from hunters for better visibility or be on dry ground while hunters are standing in water. Dr. Ed Aycock, who has a long, successful history of field trialing retrievers, says it's easy to teach a dog to work from a remote location. "Sit your retriever at a remote spot, move away slightly, and throw a bumper," he explains. "Gradually increase the distance between you and the dog, and lengthen the time you require your dog to wait for the retrieve command. Start out training with bumpers, and then switch to live birds to increase the level of excitement and to create more opportunity to correct for unsteadiness. It won't take but a few lessons to teach a dog to work several yards from where hunters are shooting."
4. Simulate a Safe Haven
(Kelly Haydel, Haydel's Game Calls, Louisiana)
A large decoy spread in big open water may be the key to hunting success when ducks become shy of smaller holes and spreads, according to Kelly Haydel. "Last year, in the first 30-day split, we hunted small ponds in the marsh with just a few decoys, and shooting was poor," he explains. "But when the second split opened, we put out a huge spread (about 350 decoys) around a blind on a little island in a big, wide-open pond. This created an illusion of a large raft of ducks that had found a new safe area. Passing birds worked really well, and our success went way up with this setup."
5. Spread Your Goose Decoys
(Sean Mann, Sean Mann Game Calls, Maryland)
To finish more geese when hunting over a field spread, set decoys 10 feet apart (three long steps), and face them in random directions. World champion goose caller and veteran guide Sean Mann says this set provides a natural, relaxed look, and it also offers incoming birds plenty of landing room inside the spread. "By setting my decoys so far apart," he says, "I use half the number I used to. I can set up and tear down faster, and most of all, the geese work better. Our hunts are much more productive than when I set decoys closer together. Less really can be more."
6. Try Drake Calls On Still Days
(Doug Minor, Tennessee)
When mallards are call-shy, especially early in the season, use drake calls instead of hen calls to lure circling birds to the decoys. "I raise mallards and spend a lot of time listening to them," Minor says. "The drakes are a lot more vocal than the hens, so using drake calls simulates nature. It’s what the ducks are used to hearing." Minor says drake calls work exceedingly well early in the season and on warm, still days when subtle calling tactics are required. "Not many hunters know about this," he says, "but if they'd try it, they'd be sold on it."