Blinds for Open Fields
Evading ducks' prying eyes is essential in hunting open fields, and hunters have come up with an imaginative range of ways for doing so. Mackey, Boyle, and McCarty concur that the best blind for a field situation is a pit, which allows hunters to disappear underground.
"Our pits are metal," Mackey states. "They're 14 feet long, four feet deep, and five feet wide. They have roofs to cover our hunters overhead. We sink our pits to within six inches of the water level, then camouflage the tops with cornstalks. This renders our hunters all but invisible to ducks overhead."
Boyle's steel pits are buried in rice field levees, typically facing north-south to take advantage of prevailing winds. They measure 10 feet long by four feet deep by five feet wide, tapering to a three-foot opening at the top.
Hunters in Boyle's pits have nothing overhead but natural vegetation. He explains, "I don't like a rolling or slide-back top on a pit. In a field, movement is a hunter's biggest enemy.
The ducks see the top coming off, and they flare before the hunters can get up to shoot." McCarty likes pits, and he's also buried four-foot sections of 40-inch corrugated irrigation pipe as individual pits. "We've set these pipe sections five in a row. We've dug them in and poured six inches of concrete in the bottom to anchor them down.
A hunter can sit comfortably inside one of these pipes on a plastic bucket, and he can rotate to face whatever direction the ducks are coming from." McCarty covers these pits with cane.
But the ducks don't always work where the pits are situated, and each hunter has an option for combating this problem.
Boyle's fields have several pits, and if one isn't producing, he shifts his hunters to another where ducks are working better. McCarty sometimes uses coffin blinds to hunt ducks that are working away from his pits.
And Mackey has a unique solution to "going to the ducks." "We've built several box-type blinds on wheels. We've covered these blinds with wire, then with cornstalks woven through the wire. We pull these to wherever the ducks are working.
If they're hitting the other side of a field, we just pile the decoys in the blind, get the tractor, and make a move."
And when ducks get blind- and decoy-shy, Mackey and friends employ another trick. "We'll take a five-gallon bucket and go sit in the standing corn. We'll toss out three magnum decoys, but no more. Sometimes, ducks that flare away from the big spreads will come straight in to this subtle setup."
Decoy Spreads for Open Fields
All three experts agree that big decoy spreads work better than small spreads in open fields. Mackey sets up to 10 dozen ducks around each blind. Boyle prefers spreads of 300 to 350 decoys, and McCarty hunts over spreads of up to 400 decoys. Most often, owing to the large size of their spreads, all these hunters leave their decoys in place through the season.
Boyle is a stickler for decoy precision. “I use decoys that are all the same size. I don’t mix sizes. All decoys are tied by the front end only. Live ducks float into the wind on open water. All decoys are set two feet apart, and I rig with plenty of anchor weight (10 ozs.) so that the decoys don’t drag and tangle. I keep the white breasts of my sprig decoys freshly painted. This stark white color shows up well and looks natural to circling ducks.”
Boyle sets his decoys in a unique pinwheel design to toll ducks on different winds. He describes, “Say we’ve got a pit running east-west on a rice levee, so shooters can shoot north or south. I’ll set half my decoys on the north side of the pit, and the other half on the south side. I’ll arrange each group in a half-moon pattern off opposite corners of the blind, leaving an open landing area in front of the blind. With this set, regardless of which way the wind is blowing, the ducks can approach into the wind and set down in front of the blind, on one side or the other.”
McCarty rearranges his spread each morning to match the prevailing wind. “I’ll move some decoys to make sure I’ve got a good opening on the downwind side of my spread. Also, I’ll draw the outer, downwind edge of my decoys to within 15 to 20 yards of the pit so my hunters will have good shots at ducks that light outside the spread.”
Mackey and McCarty both use motion makers (jerk strings, shakers, Wonder Ducks) on calm days with little or no wind. Mackey adds several Canada goose decoys to his spread if the big birds are in the area. Boyle routinely sets white-fronted goose decoys outside his duck spread.