They just keep getting smarter!
The one thing I know for sure about waterfowl hunting is the birds aren’t getting any dumber. Over the years I’ve watched some amazing technologies come to market aimed at helping duck and goose hunters be more successful in the field.
A few years ago when spinning wing motion decoys hit the market I was one of the first media guys to get my hands on these duck gadgets. I took my “media sample” to Saskatchewan to hunt ducks in the picked grain fields of the prairie pothole region.
To say that spinning wing decoys worked would be an understatement. I remember commenting to my wife and hunting partner Mari at the time that some states are going to outlaw the use of spinning wing decoys because they are “too effective”. In fact, some states have outlawed the use of spinning wing decoys, but ironically it hasn’t been state legislation that has softened the use of spinning wing decoys.
Avid hunters like myself have gradually come to the conclusion that spinning wing decoys work, but only to a degree. Early in the season or on non-pressured birds spinning wing decoys are amazingly effective at attracting distant waterfowl. Once these birds have experienced the “spinning death” up close and personal a time or two, these products are far less effective.
In places where hunting pressure is exceptionally high like managed hunting areas, I personally feel using a spinning wing decoy is the kiss of death and I don’t mean to the birds. A few years ago I had an unique experience at the Fish Point Managed Waterfowl Area in Michigan’s thumb.
I didn’t arrive in time for the morning draw, so I climbed up on the nature tower that overlooks the refuge and some of the more popular hunting zones. From that vantage point I could see half a dozen hunting parties with most using spinning wing decoys. As the birds came out of the refuge I could see them lock onto the “spinners” immediately. Unfortunately the story doesn’t end as well. Once those birds got within 80 yards or so of hunting groups using spinning wing decoys, those birds would start to circle and eventually get nervous and leave.
I watched this distressing situation occur over and over again. I’m now of the opinion that spinners do a good job of attracting birds from a distance, but they are not always the best way to close birds into shotgun range.
Not long after I witnessed birds shying away from spinning wing decoys at Fish Point Wildlife Area, I invested in remote controls that allow me to turn my spinners on and off as desired and also to set them up to run continuous or to run intermittently.
Equipped with this gear I have the option of running the spinners continuous when targeting non-pressured birds. I can also just as easily turn the spinners off when birds are locked on and approaching. Turning off the spinners and using calling to coax birds those final yards to the decoys has proven to be a successful strategy.
It would not be accurate to say I close every bird that approaches. However, using the spinners to attract birds from a distance and then turning them off when birds get close works more times than not.
If one spinner is good, then using two, three or more must be that much better? The answer here is both a resounding yes and no depending on how much pressure the birds are seeing. Even in the wilds and low hunting density of Saskatchewan waterfowl are getting enough hunting pressure that they don’t always react positively to spinning wing decoys.
I’ve found that using multiple spinners is a good strategy early in the morning when light levels are low enough that birds can’t scrutinize your decoy set up. I spread out my spinners throughout the decoys so as to attract birds from as many directions as possible.
The first few groups of birds that lock onto my set up typically work very well even with multiple spinners running continuously. Eventually the light levels get to a point that birds start to get stale on the set up. When I notice the first birds starting to get cautious, I start using the spinners only when the birds are at a distance and turn them off when the birds lock on for that first pass.
More Subtle Motion
The motion that spinning wing decoys provide is useful at getting the attention of distant birds. Unfortunately, the closer those birds get the more “fake” spinners start to look. The answer is to incorporate motion decoys that are more subtle in the amount and type of motion they provide.
Many years ago I started using a product called the Duck Magnet which is a Tyvek winged decoy with a plastic head. The decoy sits atop a piece of conduit and with a little wind the decoy swings and the wings flap a little.
This concept has been improved upon dramatically over the years. Products like the Deadly Decoy, the Sillo Socks Flapping Flyer and the Ure-A-Duck are noteworthy products. The Deadly Decoy and Sillo Socks are Tyvek products that have motion with very little wind. The Ure-A-Duck is a foam full body decoy with mylar wings that flap in the slightest breeze.
The Ure-A-Duck mounts to a short length of 1/4 inch steel rod which in turn is placed into a length of 1/2 inch conduit pounded into the ground. This set up allows the decoy to bounce and spin with the wind creating the amazing illusion of a mallard about to pitch down into the decoys.
I find all of these more subtle motion style decoys to be useful in closing birds. Certainly these subtle motion deeks won’t pull birds as far as spinners, but when used in combination with spinners, the ability to pull birds and still close them is a deadly one-two punch.
I set out two or three of these subtle motion decoys in the pocket where I want incoming birds to land. Because these deeks are very realistic there is no need to set them a considerable distance upwind in the decoy spread. The spinners are in turn placed a little upwind in the pocket so incoming birds aren’t getting too good a look at these obviously less natural looking decoys.
A Better Hide
In addition to mixing spinners and more subtle motion decoys, I’m convinced that having a good hide is critical to decoying waterfowl. The advent of the layout style blind has revolutionized field hunting, but many hunters still make the mistake of not grassing their layout blinds adequately.
My rule of thumb is simple…. I don’t want any of the canvas material to show when field hunting. I start by putting a layer of commercial grass such as “Killer Weed” on my blinds to give a base of cover. These grass products come in several different colors and it helps to mix it up using two or three different colors.
Grass products can be zip tied to the stubble straps on the blind or stands of this grass can be tied in place using a simple overhand knot. The second step is to finish grassing the blinds using natural material that matches the environment perfectly.
When hunting in corn I use corn stubble, when hunting in wheat I use wheat stubble, etc., to match the habitat as closely as possible. Getting lazy and not re-thatching blinds when moving from one field type to another is a common mistake made by waterfowl hunters.
To gather enough stubble I carry a couple lawn rakes in my decoy trailer and collect the necessary thatch out away from where I plan to set my decoys. Raking up thatch among or near the decoys creates a stale looking rig that birds will spot and avoid well before they get into shotgun range.
A couple more important points when hunting in fields from layout blinds is to store all personal gear inside the blind. I often see guys leaving their gun cases and shooting bags outside the blind. Leaving gear outside the blind is a rookie mistake and an almost guarantee that birds won’t close.
It’s also mandatory to have everyone using a layout blind wear a face mask or make-up to cut face glare. White faces poking out of a layout blind will bust birds as fast as sitting up and waving your arms!
For water hunts I’ve been using the MoMarsh Invisi-Chair blinds for two seasons. Essentially a blind built over a lawn chair, the Invisi-Chair blinds are comfortable and more importantly they can be thatched to provide complete overhead concealment. Again, it’s important to thatch using natural materials so these blinds blend in perfectly.
Most of the time when hunting over water birds come in high and have a good overhead view of the decoys and blinds. These marsh chairs have adjustable legs and “duck feet” so they sit nicely on uneven and soft ground. When the birds are in range, it’s a simple step to flip back the blind top and enjoy a full range of shooting.
Compared to layout blinds that force the hunter to shoot from a sitting position, these marsh chairs offer the option of shooting sitting down or you can stand and shoot.
MoMarsh also makes a an adjustable blind ideal for retrievers that sets up above the water. The dog is perfectly hidden from above and waits out birds while staying high and dry.
Summing It Up
Waterfowl hunters have some amazing new products and technologies that dramatically help fool both ducks and geese into decoying. Using these products with an eye towards caution and realism is the best way to fool birds no matter how wary they might be.