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By The Bakersfield Californian
My first duck, a cinnamon teal, went down more than 50 years ago only a mile from our home in Buttonwillow. Since that day, waterfowling has remained my favorite pastime and I continue to hunt ducks and geese with an unbridled passion. As a youth, hunting them nearly every day of the season and being raised so close to so many birds, taught me a lot about each species. Along with that priceless knowledge comes the realization that a lot of modern duck hunters have no idea what it takes to properly decoy waterfowl.
One can never get enough information, so watching the cable channels opened my eyes to some serious mistakes made by even the so-called "TV experts."
While I don't normally claim to be one of them, I think my experiences in duping thousands of birds into range qualifies me to comment on their glaring errors. With the fall migration primed and ready to go, here are a dozen tips to increase the number of birds drawn into range this season:
1. A duck has a right to fly up there, somewhere, without being shot at. If you want to kill more ducks, let them come well into shotgun range before blasting away. Your kill rate will skyrocket, your shell bill will decrease and the cripples lost will simply go away. If you can see their eyes or full colors, they're in range.
2. Ducks like company. When I was younger, it was nothing to spread a hundred full-bodied decoys prior to each hunt. Unfortunately, that also meant some hard work picking them up, but the results were often worth the effort. Nowadays, old age keeps the number down to two or three dozen, but I wish I could put out more.
3. Ducks land while moving into the wind -- just like airplanes. With that in mind, always place your well-concealed blind just downwind, or place the decoys where one can take advantage of the wind as the birds try to land. The TV guides always seem to place their blinds at the far upwind tip of their spread and, unless the birds practically land on top of them, results in ducks at the outer fringe of shotgun range. My friend Ken Barnes and I keep our blinds a little downwind and to the "long" side of the water or field we're using and no one kills as many waterfowl as we do when there are birds around.
4. A duck will not fly directly over his buddies. Many hunters completely encircle their blinds with decoys, causing the birds to swing around the blinds rather than over the hunter. Place your dekes upwind and slightly to the side, leaving a natural corridor for the birds to circle around and over you while examining your spread.
5. If possible, always use naturally occurring vegetation for blinds. Trust me on this -- it makes a huge difference, the more brush the merrier. I've never seen a covered up hunter not be able to get uncovered and shoot.
6. A duck spends its entire life watching for a small, ten-inch wide flash of movement that might signify a coyote's head. Ducks spot anything unnatural while inspecting each and every brush pile, so sit still, don't move and let your camouflage do its work. Wear a face mask to conceal the flash of your face.
7. It seems the TV guides always wait too long to shoot. In the few seconds it takes for the to hunters rise, the birds have flared downwind, presenting tough, going away shots. Time the event so the birds are still moving toward you then rise slowly and deliberately, rather than jumping up and drawing their immediate attention. And for crying out loud, don't shout "Take 'em!"
8. Dec. 1 marks the first day waterfowl hunters can use electronic spinning wing decoys. It's a good thing these weren't invented when I was growing up, or else waterfowl might be on today's endangered species list. They work extremely well, especially when added to a good spread. Too much use, however, by too many hunters, can actually negate their effectiveness because the birds learn to avoid them.
9. Leave calling to the experts. If you don't know how to call ducks, then shut up.
10. Birds of a feather do flock together, but they tend to stay in small family groups. When placing decoys, keep them "flocked," but break up the spread into small 5-10-bird lines.
11. Today's decoys are so realistic, it's scary. I'd buy a new set each year if I could afford it, but until I can the ones I have are cleaned and repainted if necessary.
12. Duck hunting means creating an illusion that looks realistic to the birds. Don't disappoint them.