Setting your decoys right can make the difference between ducks smoothly landing into your set or peeling away just before they get into range. Take the extra time necessary to study the many variables including physical setting, lighting, background, tide, and wind direction.
If you are hunting from land without a boat, setting up can be a bit harder as your choices can be limited. However, if you read your charts carefully, you should be able to select a spot even before you arrive on the scene. Let me give you an example.
If the wind is blowing in from the west and the tide is not high, you could drive over to the parking lot in behind Wingaersheek Beach. Walk along the backside of the beach to ward the Annisquam River. There are several tidal inlets that run back toward the dunes. The best one is the first in from the river, but there are a couple of others that will produce as well.
Set the decoys just at the mouth of the inlet where it joins the wider tidal run. You do not need a lot of bodies out there. Three is fine, five is better. If it is an incoming tide the decoys will ride up with the flowing water. Just remember to have a pulling line on shore so that you can retrieve your floaters at high tide! You do not need an elaborate blind. A few stakes and burlap covered with marsh grass will work. If the tide is low or dropping, you will be able to get down below the marsh bank to hide.
As it gets light, the ducks will come off the ocean and up the Annisquam River, looking for a place to land. A couple of squawks on the duck call should at least turn their heads in your direction. If they see the decoys in a quiet, protected spot they will often turn and come on in.
Why set up on this shoreline in a west wind? First, the dunes will give a silhouette block. so your blind will not be as obvious. Although the sun will be behind you, so will the dunes. Next, the west wind will blow whatever you shoot into the shoreline for easy retrieval. And lastly, as the tide rises you have an easy escape route back to your truck.
If there is an east wind, try using these same rules but set up in Essex on the creek just west of Killem Island. You can walk out there on a dropping tide and hunt for a couple of hours. You have to be a little more aware of the rising water, but it is a great place to catch the morning flights.
If you have a boat, the options are endless. One of my favorite decoy sets is in the Essex Marsh. I take my sneak float (thank you Bob Brophy) and I paddle out into the bay just north of Conomo Point. Here I set out twenty or so blocks. The lines have to be a bit longer than normal because of the depth of water. I set the decoys in a bit of a V pattern with a whole in the middle. This allows ducks to land into the wind in the back and middle of the decoys. Generally speaking, most wild ducks will land in the downwind side of a set. If you leave a wide hole up the middle they will often land in it, making them closer to you.
After I have set the decoys, I paddle up wind about a hundred yards. Then I anchor by the stern with the bow of my boat pointed right at the decoys. You have to make a little allowance for the current. The anchor line has a little float on it. This allows me to simply drop the anchor line off the stern and allows the boat to drift toward the set. That is why you have to allow a little for the current direction. You want the wind and current to push you directly at the point of your decoy set.
When the birds come up the channel they will see your set. A couple of calls should be all you need to bring them in. Do not overcall. If they see the set and hear one or two calls, they should come in on their own. Too much calling will only scare them away.
Let them land in the set and get comfortable. They will be on high alert the first minute or so after landing. When they have settled in, slip the anchor off the stern and let the wind move you in toward the decoys. You will be amazed how close you can get before they are startled off the water.
If you use a boat to get to a spot on land where you hunt, there are several things to keep in mind. The focal point for landing ducks should always be the decoys. Try not to put your blind in a direct line with their landing. Always place the blind to the side. This way, as the ducks turn and come into the decoys all they will see is them, not a blind right in front.
Set the decoys well in range of your shot pattern. Remember that ducks seldom land ahead of a set. They almost always ghost in from behind. Keep this range in mind when you string out the floaters.
Try to keep your blind below the level of the marsh. Get down into the ditches as far as you can. Make sure your boat is quite a ways away from you and covered well. No reflected surfaces giving off flashing light as the sun rises. Cover your faces with a head gear of some sort. A face reflects the sun like a mirror. Your skin actually flashes in the sun light.
Lastly, relax. Enjoy the rising sun and the passing light as it brightens up the marsh. Listen to the sounds around you. Remember that listen and silent have the same letters. Don’t clutter up the moment with a lot of noise. Soon you will hear the rustling of wings, the haunting calls, and the murmuring of duck voices communicating with each other as they come to your set.
See you out there.