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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Little Things, Big Differences

In duck hunting, sometimes little things make big differences in the number of birds you bag.
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  • photo by Jeffrey Coats
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Story at a Glance

This feature will cover the following areas:
  • Going all out for a natural approach
  • Making ducks land where you want them to
  • Tips for field-hunting ducks
  • Blend in - Don't stand out
  • 13 details you can't afford to forget

by Wade Bourne

Sean Mann is a stickler for his hunters' stuffing just the right amount of bean stubble into their layout blinds—not too much, and not too little. Mann, a world champion goose caller and call maker, runs a goose/duck outfitting service in eastern Alberta. In September and October, Mann guides hunters to some of the best waterfowling in North America. Still, even in this major staging area, where birds are more than plentiful, Mann says hunters must pay attention to small details to enjoy consistent gunning.

"I harp on this all the time," Mann says. "You can't be haphazard about your setup and your calling technique. Instead, you've got to be precise; you've got to be specific. You've got to be observant and analytical about how to make your setup and calling more natural and effective. I'm a serious hunter, and I want to utilize every trick I can under the framework of what's legal and ethical. I think that by doing so, I stack the odds in my favor. Other hunters can do likewise if they follow the same approach."

Little things! Every "serious hunter" like Mann employs tricks that make his spread look more realistic, that hide his blind better, or that make his hunting strategy more effective. Here are some ideas that Mann and three other waterfowl pros have for overcoming these birds' natural wariness and for luring them in for close shooting. Hunters anywhere can apply these experts' tips and expect their "batting average" on ducks and geese to go up.

Sean Mann: Go All Out for a Natural Approach

Mann and his clients hunt mostly in Alberta's rolling grainfields where Mann's scouts have located concentrations of feeding geese and ducks. The hunters arrive at a chosen location an hour before first light, and everybody helps set out the decoys. Layout blinds are arranged in a line near the downwind edge of the spread. Then each hunter begins stuffing stubble into the loops of his blind according to Mann's instructions.

"It's important to camouflage the layout blinds to match the natural look of the field," Mann explains. "If the field has a lot of stubble—a lumpy look, then you want a lot of stubble on the blinds. But if the field is barren looking without too much stubble, then you don't want to put much stubble on the blinds. You don't want to make them look like little muskrat huts out in the middle of nothing. The point is, make the blinds blend in, not stand out. We camouflage them to match the overall appearance of the field."

Further, Mann has his hunters cover their layout blinds only with stubble that is gathered on-site. "This stubble is sun-bleached and has a different look from stubble that is taken from a fresh bale. Again, you want as close a match to the field as you can get."

If Mann sees a "no wind" forecast on the news the night prior to a hunt, he instructs his assistants to take the layout blinds to the field a couple of hours early to let them collect a frost coating. "On those still nights, everything else will get frosty. A dark layout blind with no frost on it stands out like a sore thumb in a white field."

On the other hand, Mann is careful not to allow frost to collect on his full-body and shell decoys. "If you put these out early, they'll frost over quickly. Then, when the sun comes up, the frost will melt and the decoys will get wet and turn into mirrors. Canada geese don't like to come into mirrors." Instead, he sets out his silhouette decoys first, then he mixes in his full-bodies and shells right before shooting time, with too little time before sunrise for them to collect frost.

Mann is a stickler for calling technique on honkers. "Hunters would be better callers if they'd be better listeners," he explains. "Many hunters just make noise on their goose calls. They call at Mach 6, and they don't listen to what the geese are saying back. If they did listen, they'd hear the geese telling them what they want to hear. Sometimes they'll be very vocal, and other days they'll be silent or call very little. Hunters should pay attention to this and emulate how the real birds are calling.

"Also, listening in the last 200 to 300 yards is critical. Geese say things to each other during final approach that, if hunters duplicate them, they will trigger a landing response. So listen carefully between your calls, and try to copy what the geese are saying."

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