By Wade Bourne
It's necessity of change tactics when the hunting conditions are poor. When the wind is slack, the sky overcast and the temperature warm, hunters must adjust. These conditions make the birds spooky, and they take more convincing to lure into range.
The following are proven tips in pulling in ducks made wary by poor hunting conditions and heavy gunning pressure.
Increase the Realism of Your Spread
When the wind is up and the sun is bright, you don't need a feather-perfect decoy spread to pull ducks in. However, on still, cloudy days, the ducks get a much better look. It's easier for them to circle a spread, because they're not buffeted by gusts. And the lack of shadows reveals much greater decoy detail to their discerning eyes.
There are several things hunters can do to increase a spread's realism. One is to add movement, as described above. Real ducks keep a quiet hole of water alive with ripples. Decoys should do likewise.
There are many options for making decoys move. Jerk strings, motorized decoys, water shakers and other devices will solve the no-movement dilemma. Waterfowl specialty catalogs feature an array of such products. On slow bird days, they are tickets for action.
Hunters should also keep their decoys' paint fresh and bright. A little touch-up during the off-season handles this problem. Another trick is to keep mud washed off decoys so their colors show clearly. An old soft-bristle brush is good for scrubbing mud away.
Sleeper and confidence decoys add realism. I scatter a half dozen sleeper mallards through my spread. (Ducks are lazy on warm, still days.) I also toss several coot decoys around the outer edge of my spread for a more natural appearance.
Another ruse is to set a line of stand-up field decoys on a log at the edge of my spread. Ever notice how real ducks climb up and rest and loaf on logs? Simulating this adds convincing power to circling birds. I nail these decoys' bases to the log to hold them in place when the wind blows.
Call Less; Call Quieter
Slow-bird days are lazy days for ducks, and this dictates a softer, less-aggressive style of calling than you would use on a blustery new-duck day.
On calm, cloudy days, I use a quiet, raspy call, and I blow it sparingly. I hail-call to get passing birds' attention, and then I back off as they begin circling. I may blow a short comeback as they slide downwind, and sometimes I might chuckle and make a few quiet quacks, but I'm not compulsive. On slow-bird days, a demanding style of calling will usually scare ducks away. (Some days, as in the one described above, no calling is better than even minimal calling. Experiment to see what works best.)
Keep Covered; Keep Still
Good camouflage is a necessity on slow-bird days. Again, when it's overcast, there are no shadows, and low-flying ducks can see down into blinds, boats, brush, etc. It's easy for them to pick up a face looking up or a hand reaching for a shotgun.
Keep your blind well brushed throughout the season, especially the shooting hole. As the season progresses and cover is beaten down or blown off a blind, add more periodically to keep hunters hidden.
Make sure hunters' clothing blends into the natural surroundings – no bright colors. Also, a face mask is a good idea to hide hunters' shiny faces.
Sometimes ducks are easy to pull in when the weather is right and new flights are arriving. But catch a slow-bird day with ducks that have been called to and shot at until they are super wary, and decoying them in close can seem like Mission Impossible.
But it's not! Slow-bird days may not provide fast action, but they can be better than most hunters expect.
When I left our blind toting my four ducks, I had high hopes for the next morning's hunt. My new tipper decoy had passed the test. Now, I knew that if it was one of those days when ducks were circling out of range, almost with a taunting attitude, I'd give my goose a couple of hard tugs and get ready. Chances are their flaps and landing gear would come down, and another duck or two would make a splash landing!