Once you learn to decoy wary ducks you will be ready for a majority of waterfowl hunting days during the season. There’s only one opening weekend per season where the local birds will land right in your decoys. After that, only a few days provide the right wind and weather to move migratory birds into your area.
You can’t always go out during the best days so you’re often stuck with the majority of days that present you with challenges: light winds, sunny conditions, wary ducks.
Too Long, Didn’t Read (TLDR)
This is a long post, so if you’re simply looking for ideas decoy spreads, scroll down for the diagrams below and get blown away by my illustrative aptitude. However, most of this advice applies to any decoy spreads you create. Trying to decoy wary ducks and lure them into a spread will likely account for much of your waterfowl hunting time. If you’re new to the sport it’s worth the read.
Why are the Ducks Decoy Shy?
There are a couple of reasons why birds in your area are wary of decoys. First, they may be local birds that have been shot at time and again on the ponds you’re hunting. These, to me, are the hardest birds to hunt because they know blind locations and have seen it all. If you plan to hunt a public area and the weather has been pretty stable, then this is what you often will find. In this case, you’re in for a tough day.
On the other hand, you may be shooting at migratory birds that are new to the area. They have probably been shot at over decoys and are now pretty wary of decoy spreads that are static and unrealistic. However, you may have the advantage in that the birds won’t know the locations of the blinds. These birds will be a little easier to manipulate and offer you better chances of success.
Check the Weather and Wind
If you have had stable weather for a few days, with blue skies and few changes in temperature, then it’s likely you’ll be hunting local birds. This can make for tough hunting and it will be even more important that you are ready to set up for very wary ducks that will try to avoid decoys and perhaps your blind entirely.
If, however, you’re hunting during a day with a storm front moving in, especially one from the North, then you likely will see migratory birds pushing through your hunting area. While wary, they also will be weary from flying and will be more likely to land closer to decoys. This generally holds true if you’re hunting during a storm or the day after one. A cold, cloudy day with wind, a little rain, or maybe some snow flurries should get your heart racing. And always remember that the wind is your friend, especially when you are trying to decoy wary ducks.
Check Your Blind Location and Direction
In some cases, you may have a good idea about the blind you will be hunting. Or, in the case of lotteries, your place in line will dictate what you get. Regardless, if you have a choice, consider three major issues when choosing your blind.
Wind: First, consider the wind. An ideal wind will be blowing from 10-25mph from directly behind the blind. This will insure the birds will be landing, feet down, right at you, presenting the easiest shots. If that’s not possible, then choose a blind that has a crosswind. The last thing you want in windy conditions are winds that are blowing right into your face.
Sun: Second, if the wind is light, think about the location of the sun for most of the day. I would avoid blinds where I am looking into the sun. It’s harder to shoot and the sun can illuminate your position and movement if it’s out in front of you, versus behind you.
Water: Finally, what’s the water like around the blind? During some parts of the season, the water may be too shallow or in some cases too deep for you to navigate. If it’s a windless, cloudy day I would go for a blind on a point or one surrounded by water versus ones in a cove or on the shore. These types of blinds give you more options to set up and make adjustments.
Scout the Area You Plan to Hunt and Make Adjustments
If you can, go out to the hunting area or at least to similar water in the area and look for how the ducks are behaving while they are on the water. Are they resting in large groups on the middle of the water? Are they sitting in the weeds or along the shore? Are they divers in singles or in pairs feeding? You will want to pay attention especially to how close the ducks are to one another. A simple 10-minute scouting trip can help inform your decisions around how to tweak your spread for success when you want to decoy wary ducks.
Check Your Decoys
This is another area where I see new hunters struggle.
Variety is Important
Not every pond or swamp in America is loaded with fat, corn-fed mallards. You’re more likely to find a mix of dabblers and divers. Even if you are targeting only greenheads, you still will want to sprinkle other birds in your spread. If you don’t know which species frequent your area, check with your local outfitters for ideas on which ones to add.
You may want to add at least teal and widgeon, which are common. Then we add a few goose floaters. If we have them, I like to add a few divers to our mix, since we often see them. In our area, ringnecks are especially good because they have black and white contrasting colors, which can be seen from long distances. And, if it’s a diver kind of day, a strap full of ringnecks is better than nothing.
Motion Can Help (and Hurt)
Finally, I like to do things that add motion to our decoys. If it’s not a windy day I like to simply tie a tangle-resistant cord to one of the decoys so we can put some ripples on the water during slow days. When hunting mallards, we will also try to deploy a pull-string motion decoy.
If there’s wind and we’re hunting mallards we like to take a wind-driven motion decoy. But I don’t use either of these close to where I expect birds to land. The spinner decoys can flare birds once they get close so choose their locations so they don’t interfere with the flight paths of incoming ducks.
Mind the Direction the Decoys Face
This is a finer point, but one I like. Generally decoys will orient themselves so they point into a stronger wind. Even if you have a light wind, try to get your decoys to face into the wind. This is relevant because ducks will take off into the wind to provide lift more quickly. Also, since I know ducks often don’t like to fly over decoys, I try to position decoys so they are not facing the landing zone.
Examples of Spreads to Decoy Wary Ducks
The Basic Theory of Defensive Decoying
I base my decoy spreads on a simple idea: ducks looking for landing spots do not seem to like to fly over decoys. This is especially true of wary ducks, which will be curious enough to approach your decoy spread then flare at the last second. And they always seem to flare right before you have a chance at them.
So when hunting these wary ducks I like to do something we call defensive decoying. This basically means that we are trying position our decoys in water where we don’t want the ducks to land while simultaneously giving them a landing zone that is close enough, based on the conditions, for us to take a quality shot within 20-30 yards or less.
I’m also mindful to give the ducks close-in flying lanes in case they change their minds and flare – or, honestly, in case we miss them entirely.
So with all these things in mind, below is how I would set each of these blind types based on a going-away wind and a crosswind. If there’s no wind, then start the day with the going-away wind and adjust based on how you see the ducks behaving.