One of the most frustrating experiences a duck hunter can have is when there are ducks in the area, but they won’t commit to the decoys no matter what setup they are presented with. From calling, to concealment, to moving locations, the ducks just will not finish in the decoys. Duck hunters across all flyways share this frustration, especially when the same ducks are in the same location for a prolonged period of time.
After the same ducks have been in the same area for a significant amount of time, they start to recognize patterns that hunters fall into. Whether its the same calling techniques or the same decoy spreads day after day, they begin to learn where it is safe, and where they will get shot. When hunters get the slightest indication that the ducks have figured this out, it is time to change things up. Adjusting your decoy spread is one of the best, if not the best, way to get even the most wary ducks at your feet. The decoy spreads below have all proven effective when hunter pressure has built up on ducks, and it is time to try something different than what others are doing.
Decoy spreads for pressured ducks
Relaxed decoy spread
Adjusting your decoy spread to appear more relaxed is a sure way to have more success when hunting pressured ducks. When ducks are in a relaxed setting they are spread out, in small groups, and likely around some sort of natural cover like weeds or brush. A relaxed decoy spread is effective on pressured ducks because it looks like a safe place to land, unlike traditional decoy spreads that other hunters use each day of the season. The spread should be placed in groups of 5-6 decoys 10-12 feet apart. One common misconception among duck hunters is that their decoys must be extremely visible to ducks flying over. However, in this instance, tucking your decoys into the brush and making them look natural has proven successful.
Feeding decoy spread
Creating a decoy spread that looks like ducks that are feeding is another way to fool pressured ducks. When the birds are thinking with their stomach instead of their head, they are much easier to decoy. Ducks are usually pressured later in the season, which also happens to be the same time they need a quality food source the most. Hunters should use this to their advantage by placing their decoys in and around the birds’ food source. When setting up your spread, be sure to place your decoys close to one another, and consider using a jerk string. If you have ever watched ducks feed, you will notice how tightly packed together they are, as well as how much motion is created on the water. If you can imitate ducks that are feeding this way, you will have more success hunting pressured ducks with food on their mind.
Refuge decoy spread
One way to decoy pressured ducks more effectively is to create a spread that looks like a refuge. A refuge has all sorts of ducks doing all sorts of things. Some are feeding, some are sleeping, and some are cruising around and creating motion. This spread works well for pressured ducks, especially when a large amount of decoys are used. Throwing out 25-50 dozen duck floaters makes it difficult for even the most pressured birds to pass up. A refuge spread can be challenging to deploy, especially when you are hunting public ground and have to pack decoys before and after the hunt. However, private land owners use this style of decoy spread to their advantage, and have lots of success on pressured ducks.
Pairs of ducks
As ducks become more pressured later in the season, they also start shifting their minds to spring breeding. This is easy to notice because they travel in pairs that typically consist of a hen and a drake. As a result, hunters should create a decoy spread that is convincing to pairing ducks. Leaving a lone hen decoy or a lone drake decoy in the middle of the hole will catch their attention, and appear more realistic. This adjustment to your decoy spread is great for pressured birds that are beginning to look for a mate.
Do what the ducks are doing
Once it is obvious the ducks in the area have become pressured, it is important to see how the birds are behaving in an area where they are safe. Grab some buddies, a pair of binoculars, and hop in your truck to check out the closest waterfowl refuge. Take notes of the ducks’ behavior and apply them to your decoy spread. If you need to add motion, fix up a jerk string or purchase a splasher decoy. Or, if you need more realistic decoys, pool your money together with your fellow blind partners. By observing ducks when they are in a safe location and adjusting your spread accordingly, you are sure to have more success with wary and pressured birds.
Which decoys to use for pressured ducks
Realism is key
No matter which decoy spread is used for hunting pressured ducks, hunters will want to use the most realistic decoys possible. There are many options to choose from, but using a flocked decoy is best. Not only will they appear more realistic to the decoy shy birds, but they are also different than what most hunters are using. Using decoys with a variety of head and body positions will also add to the realism factor, which will help fool more pressured ducks.
Adding one to two dozen Canada goose decoys to your spread will also help decoy pressured ducks. The bigger decoys are more noticeable to ducks flying over, and tend to make them take a second look. Geese also add a confidence factor to decoy spreads. Many hunters argue that ducks are comfortable around Canada geese, which is why even the most pressured ducks will decoy to them.
Variety of species
Once ducks get pressured, it is important to use decoys that imitate the specific species you are targeting. This creates a much more realistic setup for ducks in the area, and will bring more success. Many hunters find themselves throwing out all mallard decoys, which works in many cases, but it is important to mix it up when ducks become decoy shy. A popular way to diversify a decoy spread for pressured ducks is by adding black duck decoys. They are realistic and very visible to ducks working your spread.
Motion decoys for pressured ducks
Forget the spinning wing decoys
When you get even the slightest indication that ducks are becoming pressured, you should consider pulling the spinning wing decoys out of your spread. Migrating ducks have seen these all down the flyway, and they are one of the easiest ways for pressured ducks to figure out where the hunters are. Most hunters use 2-3 spinning wing decoys throughout the season, so ducks grow accustomed to them, and know they will get shot if they get too close.
Adding realistic motion to your spread is one of the best decoy tactics to use for harvesting ducks that are pressured. Jerk strings and splasher decoys are the best to use because they are low profile and imitate realistic duck behavior. Pressured ducks usually know what a decoy spread is by the middle of the season, so be sure to add as much realistic motion as possible to have the most success.
Find the Ducks!