We’ve all been there. You’ve worked hard to get that group of Mallards to lose enough air to make things interesting. As they begin to circle, you start to count how many drakes are in the group, and possibly even pick out your first target. As they’re making one of their final passes, you all of a sudden see flashes of white caused by the duck’s flapping wings as they rush to gain altitude and get the heck out of Dodge.
You glance at your hunting buddies and or dog while shaking your head. All you receive in return are raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders from your partners, and probably the ears raised tongue sticking out look from the K-9.
In this article, I’ll talk about why ducks flare and what can be done to avoid/limit it in the future. Some of what I will share is based on science and some based on personal experiences. I’ve found their are 3 main reasons ducks flare.
Top 3 reasons why ducks flare:
- Unexpected movement
- Unrealistic water appearance
Do Duck Blinds Flare Ducks?
Blind outline and camo:
Few things in nature are symmetrical in shape. Duck blinds on the other hand are usually constructed with right angles or other shapes rarely found in nature. From the air, these shapes look out of place and are a sure indicator to ducks that something’s off. I’m guessing you can probably spot the duck blind in the image below (hint hint it’s in the middle of the picture). This image was taken from 1,715 feet in the air, and it still sticks out like a sore thumb! Notice how awkward and out of place the square box looks in comparison with its surroundings?
How about the image below? Does the location of the blind immediately jump out at you? In case you’re still having a hard time finding it, it’s the “mound” in the lower right hand corner.
Look at how well it breaks up the outline and disguises itself as something that could be found in nature. This image was taken at a much closer range than the first one, but the blind is still hidden better. From the air, it appears to be part of the landscape itself.
Pro Tip: When determining how to camouflage a duck blind, focus more on breaking up the outline than matching the exact colors of your surroundings.
Hunter Movement in the blind
We as hunters view duck blinds as a “shelter” to stay hidden from ducks. We make sure they’re covered in camo/brush/etc. so they look more natural than just a big box sitting on the bank. While it’s great to make a blind blend in to the surroundings, one habit we as hunters can fall into is getting too comfortable once we’re inside.
One of the main threats ducks look for when circling a potential place to land are predators lurking along the banks. Most of these predators blend into their surroundings extremely well, so instead of ducks looking for the predators themselves, they watch for the unnatural movement they can create.
Once hunters get into their blind, they get a false sense of security and think they’re completely hidden from view. Ducks from the air usually have a good line of vision into the blind, and can spot the slightest movement a hunter makes, even if it’s just a turn of the head or a hand moving to blow a call. I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that from a duck’s point of view, a human face moving side-to-side hidden under a stocking hat looks an awful lot like a hungry predator hiding in the bushes.
Pro Tip: If you can see the ducks, they can most likely spot you. Either stay still, or make sure you’re hiding behind enough brush to conceal any movement you make.
Can decoys flare ducks?
All animals have natural movements and gestures they display while eating and or resting in the wild. Deviations from these movements are easily noticeable by other members of their species. For example, if you walked into a room and everyone was walking on their hands and speaking in pig latin, you’d probably realize something was up.
Ducks are no different. When making observations from the air, they’re on the lookout for unnatural movement (and/or lack of natural movement), to determine whether or not they’ve found a safe place to land. Decoys should provide this familiar movement while avoiding the unusual.
Check out the video below to see what natural duck movement looks like. Make sure to notice 2 things: How they always seem to be in motion, and how “smooth” their movements are.
*The good stuff starts at minute 3:31.
I’ve hunted numerous calm days with very little wind, causing my decoys to sit lifeless on the water. The instant I pulled out the jerk cord and or motion decoys, my spread came to life and I could tell a noticeable difference in duck’s reactions.
I’ve also tried some motion decoys that provided a significant amount of movement, but it was unnatural to the point of flaring ducks as soon as they got close to it. (One specific example was a flying wind sock decoy that seemed to act more like a runaway kite than a moving duck).
With the flood of motion decoys hitting the market, be selective on which to purchase and use. Stay away from those that create erratic start and stop movements. I prefer options that create more fluid actions and create a little disruption of the water around the decoy.
Pro Tip: When using motion decoys, chose those that imitate fluid movements and break up the water’s surface. Avoid those that appear erratic and create too much commotion on the water.
Duck decoys need to be bright enough to grab attention, but too much glare can be a red flag to passing birds. Most decoys used out of the box when purchased have a happy medium between the two. It’s when we try to touch up our old decoys with paint that we can make mistakes. Before deciding which brand/type of paint to use to refurbish your decoys, ask someone at the store which ones result in the least amount of glare.
Variety of color is important. Even ducks within the same species don’t all look the same. If you’re going to use decoys that are all the same species, make sure to include both hens and drakes. This gives a realistic contrast between bright and dark colored ducks on the water.
Pro Tip: Make sure to have a mix of species and genders in your spread to create a realistic contrast in colors. Avoid paints with give off glare when touching up decoys with paint.
Do Hunting Dogs Spook Ducks?
Dogs Retrieving a Duck
I’ve been surprised on more than one occasion to witness just how little ducks circling in the air seem to notice or worry about a dog retrieving a bird in the water. Several times I’ve watched my dog finishing up a retrieve while swimming right through the decoys, and the ducks still got within gun range before flaring or getting shot at.
I feel this has to do with the fact that ducks aren’t overly concerned with predators in the water. The animals that prey on ducks live on dry land. My black lab swimming in the water probably resembles a large beaver or muskrat to them, which would be something completely normal to see nature.
Dog Boxes Outside the Blind
When hunting from an A-frame blind, I use a dog box placed just outside the blind’s entrance. It gives my hunting partners and I significantly more room for our gear, and prevents a wagging tail from knocking over our coffee or a curious nose from digging in our blind bags and stealing our snacks. However, dog boxes outside the blind can raise a whole host of issues that need to be address in order to prevent them from flaring ducks.
Any movement within a dog box that ducks can see from the air will flare ducks. It looks exactly like a hungry predator hiding in the bushes waiting for its next meal. Also, depending upon the material the box is made out of, it may give off a significant amount of glare that ducks immediately notice as something that’s unnatural. As much time should be dedicated to camouflaging a dog box as it is to the duck blind.
Pro Tip: Camo a dog box with natural sticks/leaves/grasses to break up its silhouette and prevent any dog movement from being seen. If the box is made out of material that gives off glare, use a dull non-glare spray paint coating on it before attaching the sticks and grasses.
Do Boats Flare Ducks?
Boats along the bank
A boat along the bank will flare ducks if not hidden properly. Its unrealistic outline resembles an object not found in nature and its glare can be seen from the air by ducks flying overhead.
Most of my hunts throughout the season involve a small boat that we use to haul gear in and out of our hunting area. It makes life much easier and does a great job of keeping everything dry while walking through water to get to our blind. However, it is another item we have to make sure we hide well.
Since we can’t permanently attach limbs and other materials to our boat without compromising its usefulness, we gather what we can that’s on the ground and lay it on top of/in the boat. We also make sure to hide it in a place with overhead cover, such as under a tree or in tall grass.
One mistake I see made is hunters “hiding” their boat by taking it further away from their blind and not worrying about covering it up. This however is not a good tactic. Ducks in the air are looking along the entire bank for signs of danger, not just focusing on the area they plan on landing.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to use a boat, make sure it’s covered up with sticks and grasses that match the area you’re hiding it in. Try to find a tree or some other overhead structure to hide it under.
- The primary goal of camouflaging a duck blind should be to break up its silhouette
- Ducks can spot movement better than we realize. Make sure to hide behind behind brush or something else when ducks are in the air
- Motion in the decoys is great, but too unnatural movements are counterproductive
- Add variety in your decoys. This can be done by having both male and females of the same species, or mixing in various species
- Avoid touching up old decoys with paint that adds too much glare
- Spend as much time camouflaging your dog’s blind as you do your own
- If your going to use a boat, make sure it’s hidden under something, regardless of how far away from the blind you park it
Find the Ducks!