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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Ground Game - Layout Blinds

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Rice Fields

In response to extensive hunting pressure, ducks and geese feeding in rice fields often begin to avoid field edges, levees, and aboveground blinds. Instead, they start using midfield areas where it is difficult for hunters to hide. Although many hunters become frustrated by this behavioral shift, Jason Campbell of Iowa, Louisiana, eagerly awaits it.

“When the birds are hitting the middle of a rice field, I’ll wade in with a rake and create several mounds of stubble from the immediate area,” Campbell says. “I’ll line them up in a row a few feet apart. It takes only a day or two for the ducks to get used to them. When the concentration of birds has built up again, my friends and I will return before dawn and set layout blinds alongside the mounds. Each blind is fitted with an Avery NeoTub, which is like a waterproof neoprene glove that fits around the bottom of the blind and up the sides. This allows hunting in layout blinds in up to eight inches of water without getting wet. Then we cover the blinds with rice stubble from one of the mounds and, after setting out decoys, crawl inside to wait for shooting time.”

Campbell uses two or three dozen floating decoys and positions a pair of Greenhead Gear full-body resters or sleepers atop each mound for added realism. “I’ll also set a few full-body specklebelly decoys out to the side,” he adds. “It’s common in this area for ducks and specks to feed in the same field. This setup is effective on both.”

Coastal Islands

Wayne Radcliffe of Glen Arm, Maryland, hunts brant, Canada geese, and puddle ducks from layout blinds on small coastal sand islands in Chincoteague Bay. Most of the bay is open to public hunting, and no permanent blinds are allowed. So Radcliffe and his partners boat in with layout blinds and decoys, setting up where they feel they have their best chance for action. “We pick our spot according to wind direction and whether other hunters are present,” he says.

Once they decide where to hunt, Radcliffe and his partners set up their layout blinds a short distance from the water. “The first few feet are wet sand, and then the vegetation (usually salt hay) starts. We set our blinds in a row in this low cover, using any other available vegetation or driftwood to camouflage the blinds,” Radcliffe says. “Being well hidden is crucial to this style of hunting. The idea is to blend into the island, so we keep a low profile and use only natural cover to hide our ground blinds. I prefer Power Hunter blinds because they have such a low profile.”

Radcliffe shoots over a mixed rig of brant, Canada goose, and black duck decoys, and he flags to passing brant and geese to draw their attention. He says the best shooting is usually on low tide when underwater vegetation is exposed and more readily available to the birds.

Pond Edges

One trend in recent years has been the scattering of Canada geese across broad landscapes. This means more of these birds are using farm ponds and small lakes for resting or roosting areas. John Vaca of Liberty, Missouri, scouts these small waters continuously to find both geese and ducks, and he uses layout blinds to hunt them.

“Layout blinds are perfect for setting up on ponds,” Vaca says. “You can set them
exactly where the birds have been using. With good camouflage, they’ll blend into almost any setting.”

Vaca sets his layout blinds close to the water’s edge. “One of the best scenarios is where a pond has a lip, and then there’s a little drop and a few feet of dry mud before you get to the water. I like to arrange my blinds under this lip to reduce their profile,” he says.

Vaca covers his layout blinds with bundles of raffia grass color-blended to match natural vegetation. “When you do this right, the blinds look like patches of weeds,” he explains. “The birds never see you, and they show absolutely no hesitation about coming in.”

Vaca places goose floaters on the water and full-body decoys around and behind him on land. He includes several sleeper decoys in his spread to provide a relaxed look. On calm days, he also runs a jerk-string through his blind’s flagging hole to provide movement in his floating decoys.

“Sometimes when the birds are coming in, you feel like you’re shooting in self-defense,” Vaca says. “I use the most open choke tube I have. Many shots are as close as 10 yards. When geese get a fix on a spread on a small pond, it’s usually over.”

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