Robertson uses standard-size decoys instead of the magnums many timber hunters prefer.
"If the hole I'm hunting is hot—an ancestral hole, for example—we usually put all the decoys in the timber around the hole and not in the hole itself," he notes. "I know that sounds strange. Most people put their regular decoys in the hole, and maybe put a flapper or two out there with them. But I'm of the studied opinion that ducks are getting smarter all the time, and they can recognize a decoy as a decoy and not a live duck.
Therefore, we put decoys in the brush and timber and not in the holes. And if we put flappers out, we put them in the woods in thick brush as well, so when the ducks fly over, they see a glimpse of movement but they don't get a good look at what it is. That way, the decoys aren't scaring the ducks, and the birds are more likely to light."
The Duck Commander says other types of movement can add to a decoy spread's effectiveness as well.
"It's a good idea to add some swimmers," he says, "such as the models that have a bilge pump in them or some you've rigged with jerk strings. Decoys that are moving and putting off ripples really work to draw birds in, especially when they're placed in thickets and brush. The ducks see them and just drop in. Given the option between flappers and swimmers, we ideally want swimmers. The ripples they create work best to bring ducks into shooting range."
Commander's Calling Tips
You might think that a man whose livelihood is making and selling duck calls would blow a call often while hunting, but such is not the case with the Duck Commander.
"We call less than most people overall," says Robertson. "If you watched us all morning, you would not hear a lot of calling. The ducks that reach us have flown a gauntlet and heard a lot of racket, and we seldom call at them if they're coming toward us. In timber, you can't see a great distance anyway because trees block your vision. You might be able to see only 100 yards or less. We're in the spot the ducks want to go to already; they're coming to that spot.
We don't want to do anything that would spook them away from where they want to go, so we call sparingly—short little licks, three or four notes. When the ducks turn, then we blow a little quicker. We call when they're to the side of us going away, or we call at their butts. If they are coming toward us, we just sit there and let them see the ripples in the thicket. They think ducks are there without us doing anything ourselves. When they pass over, we look back as they come overhead. If they turn themselves, we still don't call. Everything is rocking and rolling. The next time they come back over, at a range of about 60-70 yards, that's when we'll hit them a lick.
"If duck hunters would wait and give ducks one pass on their own before calling at all, their success rate would rise sharply," the Commander continues. "If they lock up over a hole, I'd rather let them come down on their own. A lot of ducks will. Most duck hunters tend to overdo it when what they really should do is wait. If you allow the ducks to make two loops, the success rate rises even more than with one. But to get an old hunter to not blow that duck call … it's hard to do."
In the end, Robertson says, killing ducks in the timber is the result of much more than just good calling.
"A perfect day is one when there's a great population of mallards, and the weather is just right. You've done some scouting and are hunting a place where the ducks are sure to fly over. Your decoys are properly placed, the sun is behind you, and the ducks can't see you in your camo. If all those factors line up, then you can call sparingly and still kill a limit of ducks—if you're a good shot. But having a good call and knowing how to use it is just one of many factors that must line up before you'll enjoy success in the timber."
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