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Old 06-29-2008, 08:25 AM   #1
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Decoy set ups on public ground

Let's get away from the decoy brand feuds for awhile and discuss decoying strategies on public ground. Maybe we can learn something from each other that would improve the duck hunting experience for everyone. I think it would be interesting to see what species of decoys guys commonly use and how they set them.

Growing up in Kansas, most of the ground we hunted was private and decoying mallards was no big thing, but I've found a huge learning curve trying to understand public ground birds over the past 20 years. Every year brings new understanding and new tactics and strategies.

My buddy and I are always joking on the way home after a good shoot how we have finally figured it out, but knowing the same set up will not necessarily work the next time out. Public ground is a dawn to dusk shooting gallery here and you have to make continual adjustments to remain successful.

I've said it many times here that being different is crucial to success, but there are guidelines, set up rules so to speak, that you kind of have to stay within for the ducks to decoy successfully. We don't get it right all the time, but we do our fair share of damage. Rules like landing zones, stops, directional lines, etc.

I hunt rivers and small creeks exclusively, so moving water is an ever present part of the scene, which is a bonus. Still, even with moving water, most decoys are motionless. A jerk cord like the Rig'em Right system we use is priceless. We don't use spinners anymore, they just seem to have no effect or a negative effect. Motion is critical. We use a six pocket bag to store our Rig'em right set up. It holds 5 decoys and it's way faster and easier to keep them attached and in a pocket bag, that way we don't have to rewind every time out.

I set my decoys in multiple broken groups with distinct and obvious landing zones. I use multiple species with as much black and white as I can, but shoot primarily puddle ducks.

We use a variety of duck species with a focus toward wigeon. My sets usually include, 2 swans, 2-8 goldeneye, 2-12 wigeon, a few bluebill or redhead, and a pair of western grebes. I use the western grebes just as I would a coot decoy and for the same reason. While the coots are generally in large groups, the western grebes are in singles or pairs and the wigeons decoy to them very well out here in the west. Swans are not only a distance attractor, a kind of a homing beacon of sorts, but they mean food to a wigeon.
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Old 06-29-2008, 09:03 AM   #2
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We hunted a high pressure slough in ky and here is what we usually set out.

6 mallards, 1-2 ringnecks or goldeneyes (for the white), 6 pintails, 6 widgeon, 6 gadwalls, a couple of shovelers and 3 dozen coots. We didn't use very many mallard decoys because everyone that hunts there puts out several dozen mallard only spreds. The slough was full of coots so we would put them out to the side like they were swimming in. The rest of the dekes would be mixed together with some species pairs still together. We generally put a landing zone in the middle. Seemed to work pretty good.

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Yeah - you should probably change your user name to something like Dcklkr and say you are from Elbonia.
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Old 06-29-2008, 09:07 AM   #3
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I hunt mostly a public refuge. I hate the flashlight wars so I hunt the afternoon 90% of my hunts. As I get closer to 40 I have learned that bigger is not better, the last couple of years my spread has got much smaller. My spread changes depends on what I am seeing but usually no more then 18 decoys, 6-10 coots 4-6 mallards and a few widgon. This year I made 6 GE that I think will replace the coots. Early season I put them out in little groups with no pattern but distinct landing zones. Later in the season when it ices up I break ice until I get tired and what ever size hole I have is what I have. I put full bodies aroud the side closest to the blind and what ever decoys fit in the hole is what goes in. I shoot around 200 birds mostly mallards widgon gads and pinns in that order.
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Old 06-29-2008, 09:40 AM   #4
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to me, "Public Hunting" is divided into two categories. So, I'll give examples of both. in my explaination, "motion" means any legal method you have at your disposal to create motion in your dekes. i use 2 winduks and a jerk cord as a minimum.

A) Public WMA/Refuge - Our local WMA (Sauvie Island) is located just next to Portland and it's metro area. I won't go into the complications of getting a blind, but it is a draw type system and the blinds (mostly) are fixed and numbered per unit. so, when you hunt there..you have little to no flexibility to move and you are pretty much guaranteed to have people all around spaced at about 100-200 (if you are lucky) yards. Decoy setups out there are pretty simple. it is all about the numbers and motion. the guy with the biggest spread and the most motion wins 99.9% of the time. it is combat hunting at it's finest with the main goal seeming to be out shooting the guys next to you. my personal "favorite" trick is to watch where the birds make their approach into the lake and stretch a looong line of dekes out into the lake in a big arc that hooks back into my main body of dekes out in front of the blind. the arc can reach as far as 50-70 yards into the lake. the idea is to cut off the ducks as the make the enterance into the lake and channel them into our blind instead of allowing them to pass to the guy's spread down the lake from me. it ****es people off..and i don't like to do it, but i am there to shoot birds and the name of the game is to out work your neighbors. i hate this style of hunting and don't do it often.

B) Public "go find it" hunting. - this is what i dig. put the boat in the water and go find the birds somewhere in the hundreds of square miles of open water from here to the ocean. of course, i have it narrowed down to just a few stretches and islands now. lol. here, i am looking for "the x". i am putting myself in a spot where i know (hope) the ducks are going to be under certain circumstances. the trick here is to go small. it took me a long time of watching birds pile into a hole..only to suddenly skirt the spot or land 50-100 yards out once i got in there and deployed my armada of decoys. in these situations, i use 10 or less dekes. usually 4-6. i believe that high quality decoys with ultra realistic characteristics are the difference between 20 yard shots and 10 (or closer). also, you need a soft call and the ability to blow soft sweet little sounds to talk the ducks down right into your lap. i know this is about decoys and not calls, but the calling is the tool that gives the dekes life as the ducks are on final. hearing that bit of noise coming off the water adds the confidence for the ducks to keep coming and not drop short. (by short..i am talking inside 20 yards still, but i am greedy and want them landing inside of 10 if i can do it.) i call it "noise camoflage" for the dekes..and it is soft quacks and little single cut feed clucks. if you can do a really soft nasaly 3 note greet, that is a killer one too. for motion, the winduks are good, but a jerk cord is better. a couple of yanks on the cord when the ducks are about 50 yards out gets you amazing results. you can almost see the hesitation and caution leave the duck's minds as they kick up the wing beats a bit to get some speed and then lock up on a path for your feet.

as for arrangements. i believe decoys serve 2 purposes.

1) to get birds attention and convince them to come to an area...and

2) to dictate where they land. since i am already in an area that the birds are coming to, the only thing i need to do is to try not to convince them to go somewhere else. clogging a "X" with a bunch of dekes is a good way to keep ducks out of a honey hole IMHO.

i normally have a crosswind where i hunt blowing from left to right. i put the dekes in a small social group (not too small as to look bunched) to the upwind (left side) of my blind. the birds come in from my right side at about a 45 degree angle from the open water and the hook up wind and drop the gear for landing..if i have the spacing right, they make the hook just down wind of me and i get a hovering side shot about 5-10 yards straight out in front as they get ready to sit at the edge of the dekes.

Woodduck talked about adjustments..and i make them constantly as well. i rarely (never) am hunting over the same setup i originally tossed out. sometimes we add more dekes..or take some out. we move the spread around to adjust to how the birds want to approach. reading the birds and adjusting your spread to help them come in is a big part of decoying.
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Last edited by Swamp Puppy; 06-29-2008 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 06-29-2008, 09:54 AM   #5
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Walking in we'll use:
2 Doz mallards
3 to 6 pintail (all drakes for visibility)
6 to Doz. Greenwingers
6 widgeon
3 to 6 woodie drakes
1 or 2 Jerk-lines
1 or 2 mojo's if hunting on the Reservation where legal

Boat we'll use:
4 to 6 Doz. mallards
Doz. greenwingers
6 widgeon
6 pintail

Always put GHG full bodies on gravel bars.. ice..ect.
Also always carry a fold up shovel/fold-up saw and a sheet of burlap to make a small blind if needed.

Last edited by Kwack wacker2; 06-29-2008 at 07:12 PM.
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Old 06-29-2008, 10:16 AM   #6
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Well i'm kinda in with WD31, I almost strictly hunt public rivers or streams. I mix it up alot with species, this year I am going with a few more wigeon than I normally use, going with less coots, since everyone use's them, same with the mallards. I think I may almost strictly put out Canada geese with a few coots and wigeon off to the side's....... I went ahead and flocked all the heads an tails on my 41 goose floaters, so i'm more geared towards geese this year than the past 10..... but I will still shoot my fair share of ducks. Key thing is to find where everyone else over looked....... or just watch the ducks, they will tell you where they want to be.....
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Old 06-29-2008, 10:24 AM   #7
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Early season, small water I usually use whatever fits in a 12 pocket bag. Couple Mallards, Couple Pintail, and the rest Wigeon.
Sand bars early season and bigger water, 6 Mallards, dozen Wigeon, 2 Pintails and 18 DSD's

Late season, bigger water.....either a couple Mallards and 6 Wigeon, or.....
Everything I can fit in my boat. 3-4 dozen mixed divers with a dozen Wigeon, a dozen goose floaters and the DSD's, and 2-6 Mallards.

That said, I have left the bigger spread and moved 200 yards with 2 Mallard decoys when the birds kept landing there.

I do have a spot I am going to try this year with 4 dozen coots, 6-12 Wigeon and 18 goose floaters.Bet I shoot a great mixed bag of puddlers, feet down.
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Old 06-29-2008, 10:28 AM   #8
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interesting the number of people who use coots in their spreads. typically, where i hunt, once the fleets of coots arrive it's time to go. i hardly ever see ducks and coots mix. they seem to stay well away from each other here.
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Old 06-29-2008, 10:47 AM   #9
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I was talking to a Ducks Unlimited state committee guy several years ago about how his season was going. He said it wasn't going well, they were having a great deal of difficulty decoying mallards on their public ground spot. They steadfastly refused to shoot any other species and he ended up with only about a dozen birds on the season. I would be disappointed if three of us came home with that many in a day. When I talked to him awhile, it was clear, they were hunting mallards exclusively, so they only had mallard decoys out, only in a cluster in front of the blind. I don't think that is all that unusual for most novice hunters, but expected more of a guy heavily involved in DU. Now I don't want us to go DU bashing here, but think about what a lot of newbies think decoying ducks is all about. There is some real science going on here, real strategies that separate those that are continually successful and those that struggle on public land.

I don't scout and hunt in a typical way, I don't go looking to hunt the "X". Once you hunt the "X" hard on public ground, you tend to draw a crowd anyway and the ducks learn quickly when they get pounded dawn to dusk day after day. What I like to do is hunt within proximity, a mile or two from large groups of birds. We decoy birds as they pass the corridor of the river channel. It becomes a fairly ideal situation if you think about it. Small groups of birds given the right set up can be short stopped into a good spread. Being near the "X", but not on it can provide good hunting day after day throughout the season even with the pounding public land takes. Sure, you attract people to the area with the shooting, but we've found that it is rare that they understand how to hunt it and after one trip will give up and head for an area where more birds are visible on the water.

I like the way Swamp puppy thinks in regards to adjustments and tactics. You can learn over time how to direct birds flight patterns with decoys. His long arc of decoys is not unlike what I call the runway. Two loosely lined decoys sets extending as much as 100 yards from the "shootin' hole" can usually direct the birds right where you want them. I've always set up my decoys with a long stretch of cluster groups that will line the flight pattern of decoying birds right up to another line of decoys I call the "stop".

Just being different doesn't solve all the decoying problems, you've got to understand the quarry. You've got to know what the ducks are wanting to do. My number one quarry, wigeons, are always wanting to eat, so feeding poses are highly effective, combine that with the river keel motion and jerk cords and you have a deadly combination. I do squarely agree that getting ducks in close is the ticket. Most of the ducks I shoot are under 12 yards, that's how I get away with a 1 duck to 2 shot average with my cheap winchester Xperts. Now I'll admit that I'm hunting over my own customs for the most part, so the realism is what it is I guess depending on what you think of my work. What I find that finishes birds is not the paint job or sculpture, but the body language of the decoy. You need decoys that reflect the body language a duck expects to see in that area. If it is a pond adjacent to a feed field you don't need feeding poses, the ducks are loafing. If it is wigeons following a line of debris behind a swan or some coots, you need body language that demonstrates feeding activity. Over the past two years I've done a lot of experimenting with duck body language and how it finishes ducks and have come to the conclusion that it makes all the difference in the world with highly pressured public land birds.
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Old 06-29-2008, 10:49 AM   #10
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I don't hunt heavily pressured public spots...so my set ups can be what I want them to be....IF I find myself in a heavily hunted public area, I go in after everyone is gone, I believe birds pattern hunters like we do them........as far as "decoy runways" I use my set up to take away landing options for the birds..to the point they really only have 1.....I use wind direction and vegatation to detemine those spots....
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