Jon Butler of Jackson, Tennessee, hunts in the Forked Deer River bottoms in a swamp that holds water year-round. Butler maintains permanent blinds on two open holes that are surrounded by cypress and tupelo trees, buck brush, saw grass, and other emergent vegetation. These holes measure approximately 80 X 110 yards and 90 X 120 yards, respectively. Water depth averages two feet but will rise to four feet after a heavy rain.
Butler bags mostly puddle ducks from his blinds, but also works Canada geese into the larger hole. Through years of experimenting, he has devised what he feels is the most effective decoy spread for this site and situation.
"This is not a feeding area," Butler explains. "Instead, it's a rest area that waterfowl come to after feeding at night or early in the morning. We hunt from dawn to mid-afternoon, and our best hunting typically comes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when big flights of birds are migrating or trading back and forth between local refuges. They fly down the bottoms in high formation, and by using large, visible decoy spreads and persuasive calling, we can break 'em out and pull 'em in. We routinely work flights of 25 to 100 ducks."
Butler's blinds are built on stakes at the edge of open water, so he doesn't have the option of moving them to adjust for different winds. Thus, he has devised a decoy spread that will work regardless of wind direction. "It's a split design, like a horseshoe," he says. "I set one big bunch of decoys off the left corner of each blind, running them out about 35 yards. Next, I string a few decoys across the front of the blind, no farther than 15 yards out. Then, I extend another bunch of decoys off the right corner. This provides a large, open landing hole right in front of the blind. This is where most ducks work, regardless of wind direction."
Butler sets approximately 250 decoys in his larger hole and 200 in his smaller hole. All are oversized decoys for better visibility. "I'm a big believer in visibility," he says. "Those high flights have to be able to see a spread before they'll pitch to it."
He mainly uses mallard decoys, but also mixes in several black ducks, which show up better at long distances. He adds in a few pintails, coots, wigeon, and gadwall for extra realism. In the larger hole, he also sets out three dozen Canada goose floaters on the end of the right arm of the horseshoe.
Butler rigs a decoy jerk cord for each arm of each blind's spread to provide movement on days when the wind is calm. (He usually attaches four decoys per line.) Also, he sets out various motorized decoys for the same purpose.
To top it off, Butler adds a few extra touches to enhance his spreads' attraction to passing waterfowl. In the small hole, an old beaver hut sits in the middle of the landing area, between the two arms of the spread. Butler has rounded the hut off and set a half-dozen standup (field) duck decoys on top of it for extra realism. "I like to study how real ducks sit on the water, and if there's a beaver hut or log or some similar object around, there are always a few ducks up there resting and preening," he says. "This is what I'm copying by putting those standup decoys up there." Butler also adds a great blue heron decoy at the edge of each hole for more realism.
Describing his spreads, he says: "In the type of spot where I hunt, you need a spread that can be seen a long way off, which you achieve with lots of big decoys. Next, the more natural-looking the spread is, the more effective it'll be. When ducks and geese get in there for a close inspection, I want my decoys to look as real as possible.
"Also, I think it's vital to leave a wide-open landing hole where a big flight of ducks can drop in. And the last thing doesn't have anything to do with decoys, but it's crucial to success. I camouflage my blinds with oak brush and vines that blend in with the natural vegetation around my holes. I really pile it on. I don't think you can have too much cover on your blind."