Puddlers and divers sometimes intermingle, and including both in your spread can pay off
Many duck hunters specialize in scenarios that focus on puddlers or divers, but not both. After all, you won’t shoot many bluebills in flooded timber, nor will you put many wood ducks in a layout boat.
But in some big-water situations, usually involving a hot aquatic food source such as rice or wild celery, puddlers and divers mix with no hesitation. And hunters hoping to maximize opportunities can follow suit, mixing dabbler decoys with diver blocks. However, trouble can arise when trying to find the right mix and configuration of a hybrid spread. These guidelines can put you on track.
Typically, some general rules apply when mixing blocks. First, it’s usually wise to place diver decoys so they’re visible and almost always on the downwind side of a spread. Further, configure them so they guide divers to a kill hole — or at least entice them to pass within good range. Using diver blocks as the classic tail on a J-hook is a perfect example.
Meanwhile, set puddle duck decoys so mallards and other finicky dabblers want to finish there. That usually means leaving a large landing hole or approach area just downwind of most blocks, with plenty of space between the puddlers and divers. Configuring spreads in this manner accomplishes two things: First, the diver decoys attract diving ducks from a distance and guide them toward the hole or puddler decoys, and most divers have no hesitation about landing near puddlers. In addition, the hole or open area just downwind of the puddlers will beckon dabblers to land near their buddies.
Spread size usually depends on scale. After all, big water is a broad umbrella term, covering 600-acre sloughs to 6,000-acre river pools and 130,000-acre lakes. If you’re hauling a few dozen blocks into a walk-in hunting area, you can set a small blob of puddlers upwind of your hide and then stretch a tail of divers downwind — again, leaving a large landing area near the puddlers.
When using a larger spread in bigger water, again place dabblers slightly upwind of your hide, leave a large hole in the middle, and then stretch a tail or place a mass of divers downwind.
Match the Hatch
You don’t have to be overly picky about decoy species in mixed spreads, but a few guidelines can boost success. Obviously, species with more white feathers — buffleheads, bluebills, goldeneyes and especially canvasbacks — stand out better than comparatively dull birds, such as ringnecks and redheads. However, it makes sense to use decoys that reflect the most prevalent divers in the area — cans on a prairie slough or bluebills on the Great Lakes, for example.
Late in the season, hardy goldeneyes often become the most prevalent diving duck. At that point, it’s wise to use a diver rig featuring mostly whistlers, as goldeneyes finish better to their own kind. Goldeneye blocks are very visible, too, so other divers work them without a problem.
For puddlers, mallards rule the day, but it often doesn’t hurt to throw in other species, depending on the types of ducks in the area. Near refuges or prairie potholes, you’ll often encounter gadwall, wigeon, pintails and other puddlers that mix with divers. In the Midwest, black ducks often mingle with mallards.
When seeking the right percentage of puddlers to divers, mirror the situation. If your hunting area is holding big flocks of mallards with a few ’bills and buffs around the fringes, go heavy with puddlers. When huge rafts of cans pile up on open water and intermingle with small groups of mallards, a diver-heavy rig might work best.
A note on blind or boat placement: Diving ducks always decoy better if they’re looking at water instead of land, so set your spread so incoming birds can view at least some open water upwind of the decoys. Also, it’s often best to position your boat or blind somewhat perpendicular to the spread so ducks aren’t looking directly at your hide on approach.
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.