During a recent trip to Canada, our waterfowl editor found A-frame blinds to be more comfortable, roomier and just as effective as layouts in a variety of waterfowling scenarios
Even in the dark, our hide resembled a skyscraper atop a pool table. And ducks and geese, I figured, would find it just as conspicuous.
But 30 minutes later, the first flock of Alberta mallards dive-bombed the decoy spread, and my fears subsided. And an hour after the sun peeked over the horizon, eight full straps of early-season ducks decorated the blind, and I realized I’d been dead wrong. Better, I’d become part of an increasing trend of using A-frame-style blinds to fool sharp-eyed waterfowl.
A-frames, panel blinds, and similar commercial or homemade contraptions are nothing new. But after the advent of portable layout blinds for field hunting and other cover-challenged situations, many hunters abandoned A-frames and panels, figuring the new low-level blinds offered superior concealment and ease of use.
Recently, however, A-frames have made a comeback as folks recognized they’re more comfortable, convenient to transport, and highly versatile. Best, they work — even in harvested agricultural fields with little to no cover. Nowadays, more waterfowlers across North America have ditched their layouts in favor of roomy A-frames.
“We really prefer A-frame blinds over layouts for their ease of mobility and comfortable concealment, particularly with elderly hunters,” said Jordan Clark of Dog ’N’ Duck Outfitting, which hosted my Alberta hunt with Alps OutdoorZ.
Some folks might be skeptical. After all, A-frames and similar blinds are extremely visible and don’t come close to blending into a field like a layout. Still, experienced field hunters know that ducks — and especially geese — have become increasingly wary of conventional layout-blind setups, too — sometimes seemingly suspecting a rat when seeing even carefully covered lumps in a field. A-frames allow another approach: concealing even big groups of hunters while remaining visible but appearing to be natural. When you factor in the comfort factor and added room provided by A-frames, the appeal becomes clear.
Although mostly intuitive to use, A-frames require a specialized approach. First, they must be easy to transport. That’s not a critical consideration when you can drive into a cut field and simply dump a blind off the back of your truck. It’s significant, however, when setting up an A-frame along shorelines for water hunts, where access might be challenging, or when you cannot drive on a harvested ag field.
Further, the blind should be easy to assemble. Putting together a multi-piece blind on a bright, warm afternoon is one thing. Trying to cobble one together in the dark during cold or otherwise tough conditions is another.
During my Alberta trip, we used two Alps OutdoorZ Alpha Waterfowl Blinds set up side by side to hide six hunters, our guide, and a dog. The idea was to make the blind appear like an overgrown rock pile or other natural cover. The Alpha has a light yet durable powder-coated aluminum frame, plus square tubing with hinged and shock-corded areas to allow quick, easy set up. After the frame is assembled, you simply attach the 600-denier polyester skin. Several hunters working together set up the blinds in minutes.
As mentioned, the real key to using A-frames is making them appear natural. The day before our hunt, at the suggestion of Alberta writer Brad Fenson, we cut dozens of small shocks of natural grass and zip-tied them together. Then we arranged the shocks in the Alpha’s exterior brush loops and pockets to cover the blind material and any exposed shiny surfaces. The guides at Dog ’N’ Duck also cut dozens of willows, which we interspersed with the grass on the blind. When finished, we then rolled up the exterior skins, complete with the natural cover, and stored them in a pickup. When assembling the blinds before hunts, we added more grass clumps and willow branches around the edges and atop the blind.
The latter step is critical, because ducks and geese often flare after they fly directly over hunters and see movement, shine, or simply the unnatural “black hole” appearance of the interior of a blind. The Alpha’s push-open shooting doors rest at an angle above hunters, boosting concealment. Grass and willows placed atop those completed the hide.
Positioning A-frames can make or break a hunt. Obviously, when field hunting, you’ll want to be on or near the X, where most birds want to land. You must also consider the wind and set the blind accordingly. Many field hunters using layouts prefer placing their blinds perpendicular to the decoys, which lets birds approach the blocks without staring directly at the hide. They’ll also sometimes cheat their blinds toward the downwind edge of the spread, which works especially well during windy days when birds approach low but flare and flee quickly at the first suspicion of danger. That’s tough to do with an A-frame, especially because you’re typically hunting with a fairly large group. To allow for safe zones of fire and hopefully provide equal shot opportunities for everyone, it’s usually best to place the blind with the wind at your back. If possible, also try to have the sun at your back, which can be difficult.
After deciding on the blind position, arrange your decoys accordingly. During water hunts, that’s fairly simple. In fields, place decoys so they surround the blind. Set your best-looking decoys downwind, as wary birds will see those first and longest. Supplement numbers by using silhouettes or socks farther back (upwind) in the spread. In field and water situations, leave a generous kill hole in front of the blind, where birds will want to land. This should put flocks with their wings back and feet down directly in front of most or all of the shooters.
Seating arrangements within the blind can vary, but it’s ideal to have a right-handed gunner on the far left and a lefty on the far right. The guide or shot caller usually sits toward the middle so everyone in the blind can hear his instructions as birds approach.
Good chairs — a luxury afforded by A-frames — also make a difference. Quiet, swiveling office-style models work well. During the Alberta hunt, we used the Alps Stealth Hunter and Stealth Hunter Deluxe models.
Proof on the Prairies
Our first morning hunt with the Alphas at Dog ’N’ Duck was a mallard shoot over a small pothole in a cut pea field. It convinced me of the effectiveness of A-frames in many situations. That afternoon, we set the blinds in another pea field for geese, and they proved deadly effective at duping specklebellies and big Canadas. The next morning proved even more exciting, with a full duck limit, nearly a goose limit — including specks and small cacklers — and three sandhill cranes. By the time our final morning was finished — with another duck limit — everyone nodded in agreement at how well the blinds had worked.
Sitting on comfortable chairs with room to stretch, we’d hidden in plain sight. And as we prepared to return to the States, everyone seemed eager to do it again.