Wary geese? Hard-hunted ducks? Whether it’s challenging mid-season conditions or variable winds and weather, these spreads can help.
Setting up decoys to consistently draw ducks and geese is an art and science. Most of us learn something new every time we hunt, which is the science of studying our quarry. We strive to set out decoys like Picasso painted pictures, which is the art that draws the fowl. The learning curve never ends, and especially as we head into the field and deal with shifting winds, blind-shy birds, and unpredictable weather.
Using modern technology, like the many-featured HuntStand app, is one way to tip the odds back in our favor. Just one way it can help is with your waterfowl scouting/spotting. HuntStand allows you to drop a pin on the exact coordinates where you observed or otherwise encountered birds, and finding the precise location the following morning has never been easier. Maybe better yet, that bit of critical info comes complete with detailed maps outlining the best travel routes, access, and logged observations and other information, to tactically set up with confidence. You don’t have to be told that stacking as many variables in your favor as possible, adds up to consistent hunting success.
If your goal is to leave nothing to chance, and it should be, consider some additional gear advantages, for making your semi-auto shotgun cycle perfectly. I’ve found that Kent Fasteel 2.0 offers several new technologies that all waterfowlers need to know about, and they start with the 2.0 shotshell’s new base wad that’s been designed to improve the way a shotgun cycles. If you’ve ever experienced a shotgun malfunction when the birds are really flying, you might have already researched, and have begun reaping the benefits of, the Kent advantage.
But let’s get back to luring more waterfowl into easy shotshell range. What are the most deadly decoy sets for ducks and geese throughout the season? Here’s some insight into a few favorite layouts, and why they work so well.
Understanding The U. The “U” is one of the easiest sets to draw birds consistently. If you are chasing dark geese, or ducks, this half-moon layout works like a catcher’s mitt to draw the birds straight up the pipe. The important thing to remember is making your “U” wide enough to accommodate the size of the flocks you glimpsed when spotting. If, say, the local honkers are coming in groups of 10, a spread with a 60-foot opening will be required. Each goose has a wingspan of six feet; so when spread out, the flock will need a minimum 60-foot opening to avoid bumping wingtips. Remember that birds clamoring for position often slide to the side if they can’t fit into your decoy set hole.
The W Is A Winner. A shallow “W” is an ideal set for variable/unpredictable wind directions. A big reason why, is that dark geese and ducks like the safety of landing on the downwind side of their buddies already in the field. A “W” allows you to decoy birds straight into the spread, but if the wind changes 30 to 40 degrees off of your center, the birds will be looking to land in the pockets of the “W”. It is important to set your decoys with a shallow bottom point, and the sides stretched out.
Always check the HuntStand app before setting up, and scroll through the wind conditions for four to five hours after first shooting light. If shifts in the wind are predicted, a “W” will ensure the birds finish in front of your blinds, and in range.
Hook’em With The J Set. The long arm of a “J” pattern decoy set needs to be extended on the downwind side. For example, if you were faced with a northwest wind, you would set your decoys to look like a “J”—with the long arm of the “J” stretching north, and the small arm of the hook facing west. Mob the point of the spread with decoys to make it the primary focal point for incoming birds.
There are multiple effective blind setups with this set. One good choice is at the hook of the “J”, or the point of the checkmark, while another is along the long side, allowing hunters to side-shoot birds that are never looking directly at blinds. Note that the wind needs to be consistent for the “J” to work, so be sure to check your HuntStand app forecast to hit ideal conditions.
The X Marks The Spot. Think of your blinds as a rotating hub in the middle of the spread and you’ll understand why an “X”-configured decoy spread is ideal for changing conditions. If the wind direction changes drastically over the timeframe of your hunt, you simply rotate your blind to keep the birds coming directly into the decoy spread. With an open “V” in four directions off the “X”, make the right move to keep the birds centered on the shooters, while offering a landing zone for ducks and geese to focus their approach.
The Tight String. Arctic geese, like specks, lessers, and cacklers like to group when feeding. Safety in numbers is how they are taught to survive, from the time they are hatching on the nesting grounds, to feeding along their migration routes. Watch the birds when they land in a field, and you will notice they are always in a tight group, allowing additional incoming birds to land snug on the edges.
A tight string of decoys will allow you to set your blind for birds flying directly at you, or set it on one end to side-shoot birds and to stay less conspicuous. Learn from the birds when spotting, and pay attention to the spot where the first birds land. Mark the prime locations on your HuntZone in the HuntStand app, then use the tools in map editor to catalog where birds walk to feed. Pay attention to the edge the incoming birds target for landing, as it will dictate how you set up for the kill zone.
Grouping Your Sets. Early in the season, waterfowl tend to group in family units when feeding. We see a similar trend later in the season when it is colder, or after birds have encountered heavy hunting pressure. Small groupings are always a good choice when birds get wary and hard to hunt. Groupings can be set up over a long area, with blinds situated near the decoys farthest downwind. Incoming birds usually want to land ahead of the first group or two, but behind the majority of flocks on the ground. Create an alleyway with your decoy groups, and set up to side-shoot the birds as they come up the lane. Specklebellies also like decoys grouped and well spaced out, a look that increases both realism and confidence.
Why The Donut Delivers. A set of decoys shaped like a donut needs to have a large center opening to allow birds to land without fighting for space. The donut set is especially deadly on juvenile geese looking for the safety zone, rather than the prime feeding spot. Snows, Ross’, specks, and lessers all respond well to a circular set with a large hole in the center.
Remember to always log your hunt location and success in your HuntStand app, as it will help you duplicate success in the same field or area. Knowledge is power, so start creating your own personal hunting guide from firsthand experience. Every detail, from weather conditions to moon phase, can play a role in tapping into future waterfowling success. Good hunting!