A few years back I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hunt ducks and geese in Canada and learned something amazing. Ducks are stupid early in the season. Really. Our guide, who liked to rock out to the Beastie Boys at 4:00 am while driving 100 miles per hour down gravel roads (but thats a whole different story) owned one dilapidated old spinning wing duck decoy. If, during the middle of a goose hunt, we happened to see a flock of ducks fly by in the distance the guide would get out of his layout blind, stand up holding the spinner up in the air with one hand, and the ducks would come straight to us, no calls, no massive spreads, just a lone man and a hand held decoy. We killed a ton of birds on that trip.
That trip happened on the first weekend in September. Its now January. The birds you see now have been shot at for the last four months in every state and province since they left the nesting grounds. Guess what, the ones that have made it this far are no longer stupid. Theyve seen every decoy spread, blind, and trick in the duck hunters book so here are a few late season duck hunting tips to possibly help you put a few more birds on the strap this month.
The first tip to fooling late season birds is to put away the massive decoy spreads and go light. Im talking about a half dozen decoys, maybe a dozen at the most. Puddle ducks arent flying in huge flocks this time of year so they dont expect to see large rafts of their buddies set out in a nice neat J pattern. A few strategically placed decoys will work just as well or better than a few dozen and a lot easier to carry.
Illustration by paul bradshaw
Usually by this time of year my decoys are looking rough. The ones that arent covered with mud have chipped paint from riding in the back of my truck. The point is they are starting to look less and less life-like and that wont work on wary birds. Next year, take a half dozen new decoys and set them aside at the beginning of the year and dont use them until after Christmas. Since its too late for that this year, find your best half dozen decoys, clean them up and repaint them as needed.
Im also a fan of using something other than all mallard decoys this time of year. Why? Because everyone and their little sister uses mallard decoys. Try throwing in a few widgeon, pintail, or wood duck decoys to break up the monotony. These decoys also have a little more color to them so they draw more attention.
In my mind, one of the biggest keys to making your spread look more life-like is motion. Your decoys might look really good sitting there, but they are just sitting there. I have never seen a duck that was sitting absolutely motionless on the water. Real ducks dont sit still and neither should your fake ones.
Unlike early in the season, Im not a fan of spinning wing decoys this time of year. I think they have been used so much that by the time the ducks get here they have lost their effectiveness and can flare birds more than attract them. Swimmers, on the other hand are very effective. You can pick up a swimmer for around $60 and even adding one will make the rest of the spread move quite a bit. For about $100 you can pick up a remote control spinner, that way if the hunt gets boring you can at least drive it around, or give the controls to your kid to keep them occupied. Or, if youre really frugal, you can buy a couple inexpensive remote controlled toy boats for about $20 each and mount a decoy on top of them. For the price of $40, a little time, and two destroyed decoys you can have two toys to play with while attracting ducks.
Late season duck hunting can be rough, but by using a few good looking and moving decoys you can still take a lot of birds.