July 23 • 11:40 AM

Mallard magnets

The Days Of Easy Hunting Are Gone...

October 01, 2007
The surreal glow of the Saginaw city lights lit the horizon as Scott Goldammer and I set decoys in the predawn darkness at St. Charles flooding. After turning on our headlamps we carefully set out decoys in the shallow water. Scott asked "What are these bright orange feet on the decoys?" I replied "Mallard magnets", then turned and continued setting dekes.

The Shiawassee Refuge tree outline finally took shape in the distance as purple sunlight diffused through the dark over hanging clouds. Formations of Canada geese and ducks circled the fringes of our hot spot, searching for the tell-tale sign of moving ducks on water. Clouds of red winged blackbirds wheeled overhead, clusters arrowed past our decoys and a lone eagle circled the rippling cattails.

As if on a string, a low flying group of mallards cupped their wings and dropped into our spread like miniature migs, hell-bent on joining the party. It was too early to shoot and Scott and I giggled at the antics of the graceful ducks. Seconds ticked slowly; when shooting hours arrived another group of mallards tipped wings and came head-long into easy shotgun range. Four mallards tumbled from the sky during the two gun volley and splashed into the water. We grinned at each other, knowing that our decoy spread was hot!! An hour after dawn, we had a limit of plump mallards, some big'ole greenheads mixed in, using some of the deadliest mallard tricks going.

If your goal is to outwit ducks this fall, listen up! I've got some important tips to help you score.

First, mallard numbers are down, we all know that and the days of easy hunting and game bags full of birds taken by simply pass shooting are long gone. Fact is, if you want to score on mallards today you need to sharpen your hunting skill. Here are some tips to help you score.

Today's mallards are very alert and heavily hunted. So, you need to make the necessary steps to ensure success. Begin by selling those old decoys that need paint jobs and buy some new lifelike decoys. Perhaps the best on the market are made by Avery, called Greenhead gear. But there are several models available that have no glare, ride well under wave conditions and will draw ducks like a magnet. Do you need magnum decoys? I'd say no, unless you plan to hunt on big water like Saginaw Bay where getting the attention of birds at long distances can be a problem. Give this old mallard hunter some mallard look-alikes and a tiny bay and I'll show you how to pile 'em up.

I'm nuts about using decoys that look exactly like wild ducks. I don't use decoys with upright heads because wild ducks only keep their head up as a sign of alertness. Try dekes that have heads in a resting position. I hand paint decoys to mimic the exact detail of wild birds. Many of my drake mallard decoys are equipped with bright orange feet I've cut from soft plastic and Gooped to the underbelly. Birds flying overhead key in on the bright feet dabbling in the water from life-like decoys and come close for a better look.

Ever watch wild ducks on the water? First thing you notice is they make the water ripple. So, your task is to mimic the same action. The choice is yours, use a pull cord, buy an electric duck, use a motor operated decoy but get the ripples moving in your decoy spread. I've tried plenty of motion decoys and have settled on the motorized variety that sell for around $40 complete with tiny propeller operated by batteries. This year there are several tiny propeller motors available for around $10. I've been lucky enough to field test some of these products before they hit the market and they are perfect for drawing wary mallards. Looking for moving duck decoys? Try Mack's Prairie W 1-877-622-5779, Knutson's Recreational Sales (517)592-2786 or 1800 292-0857, Jay's Sporting Goods, Cabela's or Frank's.

Back in the day when few hunters were using spinning wing decoys, MoJo style decoys worked like magic. Today it is different; every gun in the marsh has a spinning wing decoy. Last year on opening day at Maple River flooding I climbed on a rock pile overlooking the marsh and counted over a dozen rotating wing decoys. Imagine how this looks to a wary duck?

For the past few years I've used water motion to draw ducks from the sky like a magnet. Don't get me wrong, in the right conditions and in locations with little pressure, spinning wing decoys will work. But in Michigan's heavily hunted state marshes you are better off making the move to a motion decoy that looks like a swimming duck and sends ripples through the water to make your entire spread come alive. The problem with stationary decoys is on a calm day they lack realism, they look lifeless. You can have the most realist decoys on the market, a huge spread and anyone can out-decoy a massive spread with a few decoys that are enhanced by a motion decoy. It is my humble opinion that future hunters will replace large decoy spreads with fewer dekes and they will have lively looking rigs because of innovative swimming decoys. If you don't make the switch, the gunners next door will be booming birds from the sky when your stationary decoys draw only a few birds under extreme low light conditions.

Don't get me wrong. There is a time and place for spinning wing decoys. Hey, when I'm hunting cut corn fields please give me spinning mallard decoys, full body mallards and a few full body goose decoys and a box of shells. In large open fields a spinning wing decoy outperforms all others. Set up close to them if you want mallards in your face.

My goal is to decoy every mallard I see. In the good old days in the past I could jump shoot or pass shoot all the mallards I ever wanted. But now days you will walk your buns off in the marshes before you see a handful of birds, the mallard population is way down, despite the crap you hear from the DNR and you need to have a life-like spread that attracts what few mallards pass your way.

Every year there are those in the marsh that think they should shoot at any duck that flies overhead, regardless of the distance away. I guess there will always be sky blasters, folks who ruin good shooting opportunities because they seem to think they are carrying anti-aircraft guns. Too bad. Nothing is more disheartening than to have mallards working your spread, circling, lowering altitude and some birdbrain opens up when they are way out of range. When I was young, looking for a fight, I'd yell like hell; that would get sky blasters out pronto. Today, I just laugh. Heck, I can always hunt tomorrow, I'm retired. But there is a big difference between shooting at ducks and killing them. If you want to up your odds and save the expense of shooting up shells, make it your goal to hold your fire until birds are coming to your spread, inside 40 yards.

It is amazing how often the same nuts that are sky blasters are frequently wearing little or no camo. Some hunters think that Mossy Oak woods camo is a good match for corn. Wrong. Part of the allure of duck hunting is matching your apparel, waders, gun, and decoy bag, to the environment. The trick to consistently taking mallards is blending into the marsh, becoming a corn stalk, looking like cattails; whatever it takes to hide your human form and fool the wary eyes of sharp waterfowl.

I'm equally unimpressed with those who wail on a duck call thinking the louder they quack the more birds will come close. Wrong again! In most state marsh lands birds are very call shy, the louder people call, the more folks calling, the faster birds flare and head the opposite direction. Some hunters never learn and they call until they are blue in the face. Savvy hunters use calls sparingly, lower the volume as birds approach, change tone frequently, trying to coax mallards to come in. When I'm hunting pressured ducks I only call to entice birds to set wings and I want them to feel secure. I give a few low-volume calls, followed by a feeding chuckle. But again, I learned decades ago how to call wild ducks with my mouth and the tone coming from a living body is much more rich and enticing than those coming from plastic or wood. Get me close to wild ducks and I guarantee I can talk them into kissin' distance.

The trick to taking mallards hinges on whether you develop some specialized hunting techniques. Wise hunters learn to use modern innovations in camouflage, decoys, guns, shells, and calls to outsmart wary birds. Today, if you want hot mallard action, waterfowlers must break tradition and upgrade decoy spreads, use motion decoys and transform spreads into mallard magnets.

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