Article Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
By Bob Humphrey
Probably the most diverse group of waterfowl, and most popular to hunt are the puddle ducks. And the methods for decoying them are as varied as the species hunted and the habitat in which they occur. Hunting over potholes and small ponds, you can literally toss out a few blocks and expect a reasonable chance of success. However, big water, flooded timber or heavily- gunned areas may require more specialized techniques.
The first, and possibly the most important thing to consider when setting out your decoy spread is location. Ducks are looking for two things: food and shelter. The best hunting spots occur where those exist in the closest proximity. Puddle ducks or dabblers feed predominantly by "tipping up" - submerging their heads to reach shallow vegetation - or merely dabbling along the water's surface. Thus, they're most often found in shallow water. They also most often frequent sheltered areas. On big water, look for lees - areas protected from the prevailing winds. Also bear in mind that ducks will most often land into the wind.
The type and number of decoys you should use will depend on several things. Most dabblers, like mallards, blacks, wigeon, pintails and teal will come to most any puddle duck decoys. Partly because they're the most abundant puddle duck, mallard decoys are probably the most popular. However, the smaller teal may be more inclined to settle into a spread of smaller decoys, and wood ducks can be downright snobbish about who they share company with. Incidentally, ducks can't differentiate size all that well. Magnum blocks will show up from father away so they provide a better, albeit heavier and slightly more expensive option.
Circumstances often dictate how many decoys you should use. Though it's not always the case, more is usually better; then it comes down to how many you can afford and transport. On smaller ponds, you may be able to get by with a half-dozen to a dozen. Larger waters may call for several dozen.
As far as how to position your decoys, there are almost as many opinions as there are duck hunters. Still, there are some general guidelines that can be helpful. First and foremost, leave an opening in your spread to invite ducks in. They're social animals but like humans, ducks will most often take the path of least resistance. This can be as simple as splitting your blocks into two groups, with an opening in the middle, and right in front of your blind. Again, ducks prefer to land into the wind so leave them an opportunity to do so that also offers you a clear shot. Also, place your decoys within gun range as ducks sometimes have a tendency to land at the fringes.
In shallow water, some hunters will also use a confidence decoy, like a great-blue heron on a stake. If you use one, it's a good idea to stake it out at your maximum effective range. Then you can use it as a yardage marker.
Regarding decoy types, molded plastic or rubber are far and away the most popular, and usually the least expensive. They're also light, and nearly indestructible. I still have a few that rattle from the lead shot inside. Yes, I said "lead," which tells you how long I've had them. There are some hunters who prefer the natural buoyancy of cork, and a few who still hunt with hand-made wooden blocks. The choice is yours.