Game of Shadows: Keep Sunlight on Ducks, Not in Your Eyes

By author of The Duck Blog

Setting up with the rising or setting sun at your back pays big dividends

Ducks don't always land into the wind. Many days, it's best to set up with the sun at your back. Photo © Realtree

Somewhere in the Waterfowling 101 manual, we lost sight of a basic hunting principle.

Conventional wisdom holds that ducks and geese land into the wind, so hunters typically set up with the wind at their backs or at least quartering away to facilitate easy incoming shots on decoying birds.

But here’s an inconvenient truth: Ducks and geese don’t always land into the wind. In fact, when the wind is light, they might approach from any direction. During those situations, you’re better off ignoring the wind and heeding an obvious but oft-ignored tenet of hunting: Keeping the sun at your back. That hinders the sharp vision of approaching waterfowl and also helps you see better.

Let’s back up. Obviously, if you’re hunting a large, round North Dakota slough in a 25-mph west wind, you pretty much have to set up facing east, into the morning sun. Ducks will likely seek the lee shoreline anyway to escape the breeze, so you’ll probably be fine; half-blinded, but fine.

However, if you plan to hunt a corn field or a relatively small slough and the wind is less than, say, 6 mph, you’re far better off setting up with the sun behind you or at least to one side. Birds won’t feel as compelled to bank into the wind on approach, and the rising or setting sun in their eyes will help keep you concealed.

Of course, it’s not always that black and white. In field-hunting situations, you must consider the direction from which birds will approach after leaving the roost. I often hunt early-season goose fields straight east of a major roosting water. During fairly calm mornings, my friends and I can set up with the sun at our backs and, assuming everything goes to plan, birds often glide straight east into our spread without circling or banking into the breeze.

When the wind blows from the west, things get more complicated. Birds typically come over from behind, bank in front of the spread and then approach from downwind. That gives them more time and opportunity to scan our setup. So, instead of facing due east in the morning, we often try to hide north or south of the decoys. That way, the sun isn’t in our eyes, and we won’t be directly in the line of sight of approaching honkers. We don’t get cupped incoming shots, but decoying geese still provide relatively easy crossing opportunities.

That’s also a good tactic for decoying ducks over water. Provided you’re hunting a sufficiently small slough or pothole, or the wind is blowing hard enough to attract ducks to the lee shoreline, you’re typically better off setting up with the sun to your left or right, even if it means birds will approach at right angles. It’s amazing how having the sun on a duck instead of in your eyes helps with identification. And, as mentioned, you never want to be directly upwind of your decoys anyway.

Sometimes, you can’t avoid setting up with the sun in your eyes. When open-water hunting, for example, you’re pretty much confined to positioning your layout boat and decoy strings downwind, even if that’s directly toward the rising sun. Or if you only have access to a point on the western side of a lake, you’re stuck staring at the sun during morning hunts. Wear polarized shades, concentrate on identifying ducks before shooting and conceal yourself as best as possible. That usually means wearing a facemask or face paint, as the sun will light your face up like a beacon most mornings.

But whenever the opportunity arises this season, wind or no wind, set up with the sun to your back or off to one side. Your eyes will thank you. Ducks and geese won’t.

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