By Chris Jennings
Hunting the marshes of the Texas Gulf Coast, waterfowlers commonly encounter a variety of species of ducks. Nathan Beabout, who guides at Bay Flats Lodge in Seadrift, Texas, prides himself on guiding hunters to mixed bags, which often include redheads, pintails, scaup, wigeon, gadwalls, and canvasbacks. To appeal to the diversity of species in his area, he uses a decoy spread that consists of a mix of dabblers and divers.
When deploying this mixed spread, Beabout carefully sets his decoys in a manner that represents each species' natural behavior. "Redheads tend to sit in a line," Beabout explains. "As new birds approach, they usually land on the downwind end of the line, almost like they're following a pecking order."
Understanding this behavior, Beabout strings most of his redhead decoys in a line, mixed with a few scaup, upwind of his blind. At the head of that line, he sets a clump of redheads and scaup decoys.
"Mixing redheads and bluebills gives the spread a more natural look, and the cluster of decoys at the end of the line forces incoming birds to finish directly in front of the blind," Beabout says.
With divers covered, the next step is to add some puddle ducks to the mix. Beabout sets a few dozen pintail and wigeon decoys in one big group downwind from the divers, making certain that the farthest decoy is no more than 20 yards from the blind.
The trick, Beabout explains, is setting the puddle duck decoys far enough away to draw passing flocks, but also close enough to provide good shots at decoying birds. Set the decoys too close, and puddle ducks will be hesitant to land. But if you put the decoys too far out, they might land out of range.
Sometimes this requires a little trial and error—and tinkering. "The first lesson I learned guiding and setting this spread on a daily basis is that you can't be afraid to jump out of the blind and move your decoys," Beabout says. "It's important to take a good look at your decoys when the sun comes up. In the dark everything might look perfect, but when the sun comes up and the light begins to hit your decoys, it might be all wrong. Taking 15 minutes out of your hunt to move the decoys can make a huge difference."