Super Spreads for Ducks

By Matt Young, Ducks Unlimited

Published: March 23, 2009

Just about the most important decision waterfowlers make on any given morning is where to hunt. Make the right decision, and a good hunt is often guaranteed. Choose poorly, and nothing will convince trading ducks to go where they don’t want to be.

Savvy waterfowlers know from experience where to hunt in particular habitats based on the wind direction, weather conditions, water levels, and other factors. They also know how to strategically position their decoys in a manner that not only is attractive to working birds but also maximizes shooting opportunities. In this article, Ducks Unlimited interviewed four highly resourceful waterfowlers—Tony Toye, Jake Latendresse, Jim Thompson, and Kelley Powers—about their favorite hunting areas and the decoy spreads they have devised for hunting in these habitat types.

Big Water Points and Islands
Tony Toye has guided waterfowl hunters for more than a decade on famed Pool 9 of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. This extensive network of open water, islands, and marsh is renowned for hosting the largest concentration of staging canvasbacks in the world—numbering more than 200,000 birds at peak times—as well as tens of thousands of other ducks, geese, and swans. The birds are drawn to Pool 9 for its abundance of wild celery, a favorite waterfowl food that grows in extensive submersed beds. “During the past five or six years, zebra mussels have really cleaned up the water, producing a bumper crop of wild celery,” Toye says. “Now everything feeds on the river. It’s been four or five years since we’ve killed a mallard with corn in its crop, and now even the geese in this area are feeding on celery tubers.”

Toye hunts Pool 9 in a sturdy johnboat equipped with an “Odessa-style” permanent blind. Hunting is prohibited more than 100 feet from shore to allow canvasbacks and other waterfowl to rest. Toye hunts on points and islands along the shoreline with a large spread of more than 150 decoys. He positions his rig in a classic J-hook configuration to intercept flocks trading between their open water roosts and vast mats of floating wild celery uprooted by wind and waves.

In most cases, Toye hunts with the wind at a quartering angle to his blind. “I like to hunt crosswinds because it keeps the birds’ attention focused on the decoys and off the blind,” he says. “I put the bulk of my decoys upwind and then run a long line of decoys downwind past the blind. We don’t shoot until flocks set up to land just upwind of the blind. This forces birds to flare right over us, giving us good, clean shots.”

Rivers, Streams, and Sloughs
Waterfowl guide and Avery pro-staffer Jake Latendresse grew up duck hunting in the Camden Bottoms of northwest Tennessee but recently relocated to the Nebraska Panhandle. He has no regrets about making the move, especially in late fall when heavy flights of red-legged mallards sweep down from the northern plains.

“We have some good hunting during the first half of the season on local birds and early migrants, but the best hunting begins around Thanksgiving or the first week of December when our wintering mallards show up,” Latendresse says. “The rivers and warm-water sloughs stay open most of the season, and there’s lots of corn left in surrounding fields for mallards to feed on. It has to get really cold or we have to get a major snowstorm to push birds out of this area.”
Latendresse primarily guides on the historic North Platte River. This shallow, meandering river system is constantly changing course, creating new braided channels as water levels rise and the current cuts into sandy banks. The myriad oxbows, side channels, and spring-fed sloughs along the North Platte are prime habitat for mallards seeking sheltered places to loaf during the day. Latendresse scouts extensively for concentrations of resting waterfowl by running the river in a shallow-drafting johnboat equipped with a Go-Devil mud motor. For concealment, he uses Avery Finishers and Neo Tubs brushed with natural vegetation from the hunting area.

“I like being right in the middle of the action,” Latendresse says. “Whenever possible, I set my blinds in flooded weeds right at the water’s edge. This allows us to hide in the ducks’ comfort zone instead of having to set up on the bank away from the water where we would have longer shots.”

To read the rest of this artcile, click here.

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