Set a Realistic Spread
When hunting ducks, both Goodpaster and Swineford depend on a small number of realistic decoys set to encourage ducks to land directly in front of them. Goodpaster never uses more than three dozen decoys, and sometimes he uses only a half-dozen in a smaller hole. “I like to be upwind of my spread, and I’ll set my decoys so I have a landing hole no farther than 25 yards from my hide,” he says. “Sometimes, though, I’ll hunt crosswind from my decoys. Whether upwind or crosswind, the location of the best cover and the prevailing light conditions dictate where and how I’ll set up.
“I believe motion is beneficial, but I don’t use spinning-wing decoys and am usually too close to my decoys to risk the movement from pulling a jerk string,” Goodpaster says. “But I do try to place my decoys where the wind can move them.”
In the duck marsh, Swineford typically uses as few as six decoys in smaller holes and as many as 24 in larger holes. He sets them in natural patterns and quickly makes an adjustment if ducks aren’t decoying in front of the blind. “I’ll shift my rig to the left or right if the wind changes slightly and the ducks start hitting off to the side instead of the middle of the landing hole,” he explains.
In the fields, Swineford puts out 120 Canada goose silhouette decoys. Because these decoys are one-dimensional, he sets them facing at different angles into the wind, which helps create the illusion of movement to circling geese. “I set goose decoys in family groups of eight and leave small openings between the groups,” he explains. “If the wind is at my back, I’ll set equal numbers of decoys to the left and right with a 10-yard-wide landing pocket in front of the pit. In a crosswind, I’ll set most of my decoys upwind in a tight group, leave a 15-yard pocket in front of the pit, and then put about a dozen decoys downwind. With either set, no decoys are more than 35 yards from the pit. If geese start hitting the corners of the rig, I’ll quickly make an adjustment. As with the ducks, I want the geese to decoy directly in front of the pit.”
Say the Right Things
“I don’t use calls a lot,” Goodpaster says. “For me, calling is a backup as opposed to a primary tool. It’s just something to provide a little extra enticement when I think the birds need it.”
When ducks are coming toward his decoys, Goodpaster remains silent, and as long as they’re circling, he lays off the call. But if they start losing interest, he will blow a plaintive comeback call, usually four to five notes, to hook the birds back toward the decoys. “I believe the greatest conservation tool ever invented is the duck call, at least in my hands,” he says. “If you’re in the right spot and hidden well, the ducks will come on their own.”
Swineford is a more proactive caller, but he still doesn’t overdo it. “Some days ducks want more calling; other days they want less,” he says. “You have to watch how they respond to what you’re blowing and make adjustments. On calm, warm days, which are the worst for calling, I’ll use a softer call and maybe just blow basic quacks and little feed calls. If ducks are coming, I let them come on. I don’t want to blow them out.”
Swineford says his most effective call is a “little scolding call” that he uses when ducks are reluctant to work the decoys. “It’s one long pleading note followed by several rapid follow-up notes,” he explains. “Sometimes this pulls them in when nothing else will.
“One reason a lot of people take long shots is because they haven’t learned to call properly,” he says. “If you’re saying the right things, you can lead birds right to the call.”