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How to Hunt Sneaky Holes for Ducks


Editor’s Note: Mike Still, of Judsonia, Arkansas, has been hunting ducks for over 40 years and has been a member of the Mossy Oak Pro Staff for 7 years. Somewhat surprisingly we learned his favorite pattern is the original Bottomland camo for hunting waterfowl. “The reason I like Bottomland is because I primarily hunt flooded timber, and Bottomland looks more like a tree trunk, especially when I’m standing in the shadow of a tree, than a real tree trunk looks,” Still explains. The good news is the forecast for duck season this year is that there will be plenty of ducks coming down the flyways. 

When we’re going to hunt a big public area like a camp ground where other duck hunters may be able to see us as they drive by after their morning hunts, we try to be as invisible as possible.  I put my other hunters out and tell them to stay behind the trees. I take the boat about 200 yards away from my hunters and hide the boat. Then I wade back to the tree where I’m planning to hunt. I tell all my hunters not to look at the birds when they’re circling before they come into the decoys. I don’t put any decoys in the open end of the hole. I want plenty of open water available for the ducks to land. If you’ve ever hunted river systems or timber, you’ll notice that the ducks usually will land in the middle of the hole and then swim quickly to the trees. So, I try and set my decoys on the edge of the trees or just on the edge of the brush the ducks will reach the timber. I think using this type of decoy spread looks much more natural than having a big spread out in open water. Also another advantage to setting-out decoys close to timber or beside the brush is when other hunters drive by the camp ground, there’s a very good chance they won’t see our decoys. Or, if they do spot the decoys, they may think these are old duck decoys that have broken away from someone else’s decoy string.

Ninety-nine percent of the decoys I put out where we hunt in Arkansas will be mallards with a few gadwall decoys, since those are the most-dominant species of ducks in our area. I also like to have more drake decoys than I do hen decoys, because I think the ducks can see the drake decoys better than they can see the hen decoys. I’ll also put maybe one or two woodduck decoys out. I’ll usually put out 2 – 3 dozen decoys for 5 or 6 hunters, depending on the size of hole we’re hunting. If we’re hunting a big hole, I may put out as many as 5-dozen decoys. I’m also a fan of using a jerk string to create motion in the decoys and my spread. The other advantage to having a jerk sting is if I hear another boat coming, I don’t jerk the string. I let the decoy sit still, so that I don’t draw attention to me and my hunters. I also use a jerk string on steroids known as a Mallard Machine, when we’ll going to be hunting well away from other hunters.  

Still_day3I also use spinning-wing decoys. I realize there’s two opinions about spinning-wing decoys. One group believes that the spinning-wing decoys attract ducks; the other camp believes that spinning-wing decoys spook ducks. Some of the hunters in my party will want to use spinning- wing decoys, while other hunters in our group won’t like those spinning-wing decoys. On some of the private land that I hunt, spinning-wing decoys are not permitted, because the land owner believes the spinning-wing decoys flare ducks. I agree that spinning-wing decoys can flare ducks, if you’re hunting big, open fields, especially when there’s bright light. These decoys may flare a few ducks, because they see those spinning-wing decoys for a long time, hovering over the same spot for awhile. Ducks know this isn’t normal. However, when we’re hunting in the timber, I don’t put my spinning-wing decoys in the middle of the hole where I want my ducks to land. I either put my spinning-wing decoys on the edges of the hole or back in the timber. Then when the ducks fly over, they only get quick glimpses of those motion decoys. They’ll spot the spinning-wing decoys, then they can’t see them, then they’ll spot them again, and then they can’t see them. That’s exactly what they expect to see when there’s several ducks landing in the same place. Depending on where I’m hunting, I’ll use as few as two spinning-wing decoys to as many as a dozen. If we’re hunting with a large group of hunters, or if I’m hunting an area where there‘s lots of competition for the ducks, I will put out as many as a dozen spinning-wing decoys. 

To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ new eBook and print book, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oak Pros Know Bucks and Bows.” You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or Smartphone. 

Day 2: Why Mike Still Hunts Camp Grounds for Ducks

Tomorrow: Guiding Hunters on Public Lands

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