Predators & Small Game
How the Duck Commanders Kill Ducks
Tips on duck decoy spreads, calling, shotgunning and life in the blind from the bearded Duckmen of Louisiana
The Duck Commander and his crew could be the hottest subjects in waterfowl hunting right now. As stars of an incredibly popular reality TV show, Benelli Presents Duck Commander, the Duckmen’s little corner of the earth has been thrown into the spotlight lately, as millions watch them do what they do best: shoot ducks. What’s been left out of the TV series is the fact that these guys have been going about this for more than three decades, and shoot more than 1,000 ducks per season. Their attention to detail is what separates them from the rest of the waterfowl world, and their original, trial-and-error methods have provided them with reliable tactics wherever they hunt. Separation from the norm is a Duck Commander tradition. Their hunting tips are no exception.
Jason Robertson, Phil Robertson's son and right-hand man, is in charge of the manufacturing of all Duck Commander calls. Not surprisingly, he’s also one of the lead callers in the duck blind. To him, calling is all about realism.
“My number one tip to all novice callers is to go somewhere where there’re a lot of ducks and just listen. Leave your calls at home and just listen. It’s amazing what the ducks do, but, more importantly, it’s amazing what they don’t do,” he says. “Jase” reasons that the problem most novice callers have is that they listen to other, more experienced people, rather than ducks.
“That’s how this whole world calling championship thing got started,” he says. “Hunters have gotten so far away from the sounds of a duck, it’s pathetic.” Robertson points out that ducks make certain noises when resting and others when feeding. He tries to match these noises in each situation. He says, “if you’re hunting 20 feet of water and blowing a feed call, it seems kind of dumb. That’s why ducks keep flying by – they’re not stupid.”
Another vital key to the equation is calling volume. “I try to match the volume of ducks that would be sitting on the water. If I’m too loud, it’s not realistic,” he says. “Ducks are flying over real ducks on a daily basis, so I think it’s key to have the volume matched up.”
Jase Robertson on realistic calling:
- Use more than a mallard hen call: “We use other duck sounds in the background, like gadwall calls and mallard drake calls. Our calls sound like our decoy spread looks. All we’re trying to do is make our decoys seem real.”
- Use inflection: “We’re trying to get the ducks excited,” he continues. “And I see them get excited all the time. The more ducks there are, the more they get excited. Mallard hens will use inflection (in their tone).”
- Experiment: “If the ducks aren’t locking up first thing in the morning, I begin experimenting with different sequences and volumes, or even a different call. Maybe I’ll switch from a plastic call to wood. The ducks’ response will tell me what I need to know. Realism and trial and error are the keys.”
Jase continues his thoughts on outside influence. “I don’t listen to anyone else when it comes to calling methods. At Duck Commander, we like to say that the difference in what we do versus the world champion calling mentality is that our judges have wings. We aren’t out to impress a judge. Our judges are the ducks themselves. I’ve heard guys say that different regions of the country have different styles of calling, like the Arkansas style. But real ducks don’t change styles as they cross state lines.”
The Duckmen continue the realistic approach in all aspects of their hunting, including their decoy spreads. John Godwin is known as the “decoy technician” within the group, and his approach is similar to Jase’s calling methods.
“I always joke that Phil Robertson has the final say on decoy placement, but really the ducks have the final say,” Godwin says. “In this part of the world, the ducks will not light over the decoys, (meaning they won’t fly over the decoys to land in an open pocket) so we place our decoys upwind of where we would like the ducks to land. That means the decoys are rarely right in front of us. That’s where our landing hole is.”
Godwin points out that he often sees other hunters with their decoys positioned incorrectly right in front of the blind, and often too far away. “If the wind is at our backs, we’ll put decoys all around us real close. We’ll be right in there with them,” he says. “You need to be hidden well and have everything brushed up, but we want the ducks coming in real close.”
Decoy placement can be everything, but just as important are decoy numbers, types and movement. Godwin has some basic rules:
- Use large numbers: “We usually hunt with at least 150 decoys and often about 300,” Godwin says. “Ducks feel safety is in numbers. Especially on big flight days, when cold fronts are coming through, we put out everything we have.” Godwin sees no reason to put out fewer decoys earlier in the season, followed by larger numbers later, as is the practice often described in ‘how-to’ articles.”
- Place the decoys in realistic feeding and resting areas: Attention to realism has also led Godwin toward spacing the spread throughout the area, rather than having all the decoys in the center of the hole. “When we hunt in the woods (flooded timber), we put most of our decoys back in the woods. Real ducks will land in the opening, in the hole, but then they swim back in the woods to feed. So we put most of our decoys and our jerk strings in the woods to simulate feeding ducks.”
- Make as much commotion as possible: Godwin can’t stress enough the importance of jerk strings and movement in general. “I want everything moving. There’ve been times when I’ve tied three jerk strings together. My area of the blind looks like a jet fighter cockpit. We use Rig 'Em Right jerk string kits and we also use the Wake Maker, which allows us to have swimmers within the spread. The key is movement. Every time circling ducks turn with their backs to us, I jerk that string as hard as I can. I mean I about try to tear the decoys off the string.” Godwin goes further, stating that he likes to get his jerkstrings right in the middle of his spread to allow their rippling effect to move other decoys.
- Hide the spinners: “We don’t like to have our flappers (spinning-wing decoys) right out in the open,” Godwin says. “We try to hide them from the ducks back in the woods, or under a brush top. In a marsh situation, we like them back in the grass a little and as close to the water as possible.” Godwin notes that the flash from these obscured decoys helps bring ducks in closer to get a better look.
Any fan of the Duck Commander videos immediately recognizes another Duckman trait: better than average shotgunning skills. While each member of the crew interviewed admits a lot of the shots are “gimme” type shots in close for the cameras, what’s really impressive is the group’s ability to score several ducks with each volley.
Jase Robertson talks shotgunning: “The number one thing most guys do wrong is they try to kill more than one duck. It’s been said over and over, but the key is to pick out one bird, regardless of how big the bunch is, and take that bird. Then go for another.”
Jason talks about the Duckman method, adding, “With our group, everybody has a role. The guy at the leading edge of the blind, on the downwind or approach side, calls the shot and shoots an open choke. He’s responsible for two birds. Each guy in the middle of the blind shoots a little tighter choke, and their responsibility is to just get one. The guy on the end, the last, upwind guy, is the mop-up man. He mops up everything that’s left.”
It seems the last gunner to shoot would have the toughest shot, but Jase disagrees. “When I’m on the far end of the blind, I realize my role for that day is mop-up. So the first thing I do is to screw in an extra-full choke. Now I’ve got a weapon that’s most effective at 45 yards and beyond, out to like 80. If the ducks are less than 45 yards away, I don’t even shoot because I’ll decapitate them. The other guys have modified chokes and such, but my role is to clean up when they’re climbing. A duck that’s climbing is the easiest shot in the world.”
On Chasing Cripples
The hunting skill Robertson believes he’s the best at may surprise most readers: chasing cripples. Thought to be reserved for a dog, Jason says, “Oh, I’m better than a dog. There’s an art to chasing down wounded birds. I don’t think I’m above average on anything but that. I’ve got a knack for it. I’ve got a very high percentage. There’s about a 98 percent chance I’m going to get a bird when I take off.” His methods are a bit unorthodox.
- Go fast, right off the bat: “I charge wide open. The main thing is speed. I can tell by the way a duck’s falling as to whether or not I need to be in a hurry. And once you take off, you need to go wide open. If there’s any kind of hesitation, he’s gone.’”
- Read the sign: “You look for things that are out of place, and there’s always a clue; there’s always a sign. The duck’s out of his element, too; he’s now in survival mode – and once a duck’s in that mode, he’ll do the same things over and over. The only ducks that ever get away are the ones that keep going. But they can’t help it – they hide – and when they hide I get ‘em. Something will always be out of place. Like if you barely see a ripple – that’s him. You don’t think, 'oh maybe that’s a fish or something,' because as you chased in there after him, all that other stuff, the fish or the muskrats and things – that stuff already left, because they know you’re there too. When you see a ripple, get after it.”
- Don’t give up: Once in the right area where he thinks a crippled duck may be hiding, Jase stays with them. “I’ve gotten so many ducks that are submerged that others might think are lost. I feel around with my feet.”
It seems every tactic is perfected when it comes to the Duckmen and their hunting techniques. Thirty years in the duck blind will do that to you. Thousands of hours of experimentation and thousands of days in the field have led them to a fool-proof system of duck hunting. The difference, like in any sport, is relentless attention to detail.
Submitted on December 07, 2010