By Wade Bourne
It was one of those spots where ducks wanted to be—the point of an island bordering a main river channel on a reservoir. Whenever a freeze forced the birds out of surrounding ponds and shallow wetlands, they headed for the lake. Invariably, some would raft up around the point, which was a mudflat covered with short yellow grass.
A duck-hunting friend who had observed this behavior decided to try to hunt the point when the next cold front blew in. He and his son boated to the point, tossed out some decoys, and unloaded a couple of ground blinds. The boy walked the boat down the shoreline while his dad grassed the layout blinds. The two crawled in and began their wait for mallards, which weren't long in coming.
Layout blinds enable hunters to hide in open spaces where ducks and geese feed or loaf. These lightweight portable blinds were developed mainly for goose hunting in fields, allowing hunters to scout for a field where the birds are feeding in the afternoon and then set up there early the next morning. Used in this manner, layout blinds are extremely effective, which explains their popularity among field hunters.
But these blinds are more versatile than many hunters realize. While perfect for dry fields, layout blinds can be equally effective in other settings. They allow hunters to virtually disappear around potholes, ponds, sandbars, beaver sloughs, streams, and many other waterfowl haunts. They can also be equipped with waterproof liners to hunt in sheet water in marshes or flooded agricultural fields.
Here's how four resourceful waterfowl hunters combine mobility and creativity to use layout blinds in a variety of settings. Follow their lead and you will find that these blinds can open up a new world of hunting opportunities.
During extreme cold spells, Clint Roby of Brunswick, Missouri, shifts his hunting to sandbars on the nearby Missouri River. When the area's shallow waters freeze, ducks and geese feed in dry fields and then hit the river to loaf during midday.
"We use low-profile, sand-colored layout blinds on the sandbars, usually setting them right at the water's edge," Roby says. "We space the blinds close enough to put one or wo decoys between them. If the sand isn't frozen, we may dig the blinds in several inches to lower their profile."
Roby hides the blinds among goose decoys, setting up to four dozen full-bodies around the blinds and as many as six dozen sleeper shells at the water's edge. Then he tosses four dozen duck decoys into the shallows just off the sandbar.
If driftwood or other cover is available, Roby uses it to further conceal his layout blinds, but he uses only cover that is natural to the hunting spot (no netting or grass mats). "If at all possible, I'll set up with the wind at my back or side," Roby adds. "I also like having the sun at my back. This really helps keep incoming birds from seeing me."
Roby won't get on the river until after breakfast. "I'll go out around midmorning. If the weather is really miserable, the birds won't move until midday," he explains.
This style of hunting on sandbars can be extremely effective. "It comes down to how much you put into it, especially scouting," Roby says. "The more you use your binoculars, the better your hunting will be."
In response to extensive hunting pressure, ducks and geese feeding in rice fields often begin to avoid field edges, levees, and aboveground blinds. Instead, they start using midfield areas where it is difficult for hunters to hide. Although many hunters become frustrated by this behavioral shift, Jason Campbell of Iowa, Louisiana, eagerly awaits it.
"When the birds are hitting the middle of a rice field, I'll wade in with a rake and create several mounds of stubble from the immediate area," Campbell says. "I'll line them up in a row a few feet apart. It takes only a day or two for the ducks to get used to them. When the concentration of birds has built up again, my friends and I will return before dawn and set layout blinds alongside the mounds. Each blind is fitted with an Avery NeoTub, which is like a waterproof neoprene glove that fits around the bottom of the blind and up the sides. This allows hunting in layout blinds in up to eight inches of water without getting wet. Then we cover the blinds with rice stubble from one of the mounds and, after setting out decoys, crawl inside to wait for shooting time."
Campbell uses two or three dozen floating decoys and positions a pair of Greenhead Gear full-body resters or sleepers atop each mound for added realism. "I'll also set a few full-body specklebelly decoys out to the side," he adds. "It's common in this area for ducks and specks to feed in the same field. This setup is effective on both."
Wayne Radcliffe of Glen Arm, Maryland, hunts brant, Canada geese, and puddle ducks from layout blinds on small coastal sand islands in Chincoteague Bay. Most of the bay is open to public hunting, and no permanent blinds are allowed. So Radcliffe and his partners boat in with layout blinds and decoys, setting up where they feel they have their best chance for action. "We pick our spot according to wind direction and whether other hunters are present," he says.
Once they decide where to hunt, Radcliffe and his partners set up their layout blinds a short distance from the water. "The first few feet are wet sand, and then the vegetation (usually salt hay) starts. We set our blinds in a row in this low cover, using any other available vegetation or driftwood to camouflage the blinds," Radcliffe says. "Being well hidden is crucial to this style of hunting. The idea is to blend into the island, so we keep a low profile and use only natural cover to hide our ground blinds. I prefer Power Hunter blinds because they have such a low profile."
Radcliffe shoots over a mixed rig of brant, Canada goose, and black duck decoys, and he flags to passing brant and geese to draw their attention. He says the best shooting is usually on low tide when underwater vegetation is exposed and more readily available to the birds.
One trend in recent years has been the scattering of Canada geese across broad landscapes. This means more of these birds are using farm ponds and small lakes for resting or roosting areas. John Vaca of Liberty, Missouri, scouts these small waters continuously to find both geese and ducks, and he uses layout blinds to hunt them.
"Layout blinds are perfect for setting up on ponds," Vaca says. "You can set them
exactly where the birds have been using. With good camouflage, they'll blend into almost any setting."
Vaca sets his layout blinds close to the water's edge. "One of the best scenarios is where a pond has a lip, and then there's a little drop and a few feet of dry mud before you get to the water. I like to arrange my blinds under this lip to reduce their profile," he says.
Vaca covers his layout blinds with bundles of raffia grass color-blended to match natural vegetation. "When you do this right, the blinds look like patches of weeds," he explains. "The birds never see you, and they show absolutely no hesitation about coming in."
Vaca places goose floaters on the water and full-body decoys around and behind him on land. He includes several sleeper decoys in his spread to provide a relaxed look. On calm days, he also runs a jerk-string through his blind's flagging hole to provide movement in his floating decoys.
"Sometimes when the birds are coming in, you feel like you're shooting in self-defense," Vaca says. "I use the most open choke tube I have. Many shots are as close as 10 yards. When geese get a fix on a spread on a small pond, it's usually over."
The List Goes On…
Sandbars, rice fields, shallow islands, and farm ponds are just four of many possibilities for using layout blinds. The list is limited only by a hunter's imagination. Truly, these blinds can be used effectively anywhere the water or mud isn't too deep. Find where birds are working, set up blinds and decoys, and cover the blinds so they will blend into the scenery. Then wiggle in and load up.
"Layout blinds are every bit as effective around water as they are in dry fields," John Vaca summarizes. "They allow you to become invisible, even in wide open areas. This is where ducks and geese want to work these days, but with layout blinds and realistic decoys, you can follow the birds there and hunt them with great success."