You can adjust decoys, change your calling, or turn off the wing-spinners. But when ducks keep veering out at the moment of truth, chances are none of those changes will help because they're seeing you. I do most of my hunting in a public marsh that sees extreme daily hunting pressure. Lack of concealement is far and away the biggest thing that keeps hunters from being successful.
So what are the ducks seeing? Usually, it's one of these five things:
1. Your Boat
At times, watching hunters in a boat blind can be almost comical. Believe me, ducks know where the islands are in your favorite bay, and when a new one pops up on Saturday morning, they take note. For that reason, hunt from temporary locations and hide the boat far away when possible. Minor discomforts will often result in feet-down ducks in your face.
2. Your Headfrom Overhead
I can not overstate how much of a game-changer this is. While we can be completely hidden from view in front of the blind, circling ducks will flare if they look down and see you. This is especially true in pothole-type marshes, where cattails and other grasses get matted down by hunters and leave large voids similar to crop circles. Ducks can see that, and you sitting in the middle of it, from a quarter mile away. In order to beat the odds, be sure to get vertical cover above you. I often tie native grasses to dowel rods and stake them around hunters for this purpose, and it’s very effective.
3. Your dog
When I started duck hunting, I found it strange that hunters went to such dramatic effort to conceal themselves, and then stood right next to a retriever in full view. Yes, camo dog vests help some, and overall dogs blend much better than humans, but more can be done to ensure the dog doesn’t “burn” you. First off, keeping them still is a necessity. But I also carry a custom-made dog cover - really a jacket or camo throw blanket can work - and find that covering my dog, and keeping him concealed in shadows, helps my group bring ducks in close.
4. Your face
I once asked Phil Robertson how many more ducks he believes his group kills due to their trademark facepaint. His answer was a dramatic 25 percent. Since that time, I’ve come to realize that face concealment is vital in certain situations. Leave nothing to chance; paint your face.
5. Tiny Mistakes
The customary way of setting decoys is to place them out front, with the wind at your back. This strategy puts the eyes of incoming ducks right on you, where they can pick up the tiniest mistake. When struggling to get ducks to commit, try setting your decoys in a crosswind and shoot the ducks as they cross in front. Maybe even place decoys upwind and take the birds as they sail over. In any case, get the ducks' eyes off you as they decide their final move.
Bonus #6: You’re not getting down!
When hunting pressured ducks, I go to the extreme to avoid detection, including laying down, nearly submerged in the muck and water. While I’m a stickler, the important thing to consider is how much more dramatically a standing hunter sticks out when ducks first approach in a marsh or cropland environment. For that reason, sit down whenever possible. Another trick is to move into deeper water, even if that means out toward the decoys. A hunter standing in waist-deep water among reeds or flooded grass is nearly undetectable to ducks.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.