Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Useful Tools for Waterfowl Hunters

Waterfowlers can never have enough gear at their disposal


By Wade Bourne

Several years back, a friend and I were running his boat up a west Tennessee stream, trying to get to where we'd seen ducks working. We made good progress until we were stopped by a fallen tree that stretched from bank to bank. Guess that's the end of this exploration, I thought to myself.

But I had underestimated my partner. He killed the outboard, opened a dry box—and pulled out a chainsaw. It took him only a few minutes to saw the tree out of our path. 

Several hundred yards farther we flushed a swarm of ducks from a slough adjacent to the creek. We tossed out our decoys, hid in nearby bushes, and enjoyed a steady shoot as the birds trickled back to their resting spot.

Of course that's an extreme example. But my point is that it never hurts to be prepared. Following is a somewhat random list of gear that I always keep handy while waterfowling. Obviously, different items will be applicable in different hunting situations. But any of them could help save the day on your next duck hunting trip. 



  • Camo netting. I keep a large section rolled up and stuffed in a tote bag for hiding hunters, dogs, boats, ATVs, etc. I prefer military-issue camo strips stapled onto heavy string netting. This type of camouflage can be purchased at most military surplus stores.
  • Cable ties. I carry several of these plastic fasteners in my blind bag. They work great for building, brushing, and repairing blinds, as well as for binding and fixing various gear.
  • Brush cutters. Whether you choose a small ax, machete, or limb pruners, having some kind of tool for cutting brush or trimming limbs is essential for boat-in or walk-in hunters.
  • GPS. This device can lead a freelance hunter to the "X" and get him back to the truck when the hunt is over. I prefer the Bushnell BackTrack, a simple three-waypoint device that's the size of a hockey puck.
  • Facemask. It's surprising how many duck hunters don't carry a facemask. The eyesight of ducks and geese is better than most hunters realize, and waterfowl can pick up the shine off a hunter's face on both sunny and cloudy days.
  • Multi-tool. Knife, screwdriver, punch, file, and pliers all in one—these practical gadgets allow you to carry the equivalent of a small
    toolbox on your hip or in your blind bag. 
  • Life jackets. Each hunter in a boat is required to have his or her own Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device, and each hunter should be required to wear it when the boat is under way. Life jackets save lives.
  • Jerk string. This rig, which includes a bungee cord, 50 yards of tarred nylon twine, and snaps for attaching decoys to the line, can be deployed quickly when a lack of wind leaves the decoys and the water's surface unnaturally still.
  • Headlamp. A headlamp leaves your hands free for handling a boat and decoys or toting gear to the blind in the predawn darkness. 
  • Cell phone. Most hunters carry them—for good reason. A cell phone can be a lifeline in medical emergencies, and can help you out of a jam if your boat motor quits or your truck gets stuck. Carry the phone in a resealable plastic bag to keep moisture out.
  • Marsh seat. These portable seats are compact, lightweight, and sturdy—great for taking a load off when hunting in marshes and fields. 

In short, when it comes to gear, carry what you think you'll need—and then take along extras. Shells, calls, batteries, hand warmers, snacks, decoy string, toilet paper, first-aid kit, etc. I keep a "possibles bag" stocked with such extras in my pickup. It's amazing how many times I'll dig through this bag for replacements each season.

BEYOND THE BASICS While the following tools are not essential, they are useful in enough situations to be counted among my favorite duck hunting gear.

Wading staff. I've used the same cherry wading staff for 20 years. It has saved me from countless falls in soft-bottom marshes and stump-strewn swamps. I never leave home without it. Layout blind. In my opinion, this is the best piece of waterfowling gear to come along in decades. Its portability, versatility, and capacity for hiding hunters in wide-open areas offer many advantages to those who use them.

Ten Great Waterfowling Inventions

A short list of game-changing gear innovations that have made waterfowlers more successful


By Gary Koehler

Back in the dark ages, while doing my best to impersonate a diligent college student, one lesson I learned was that classes at eight o'clock in the morning do not mesh well with duck season. A Professor of Latin American history taught me that lesson, if little else.

That was in southern Illinois during the halcyon days of the early 1970s, when those of us who favored whistling wings over stuffy classrooms were surrounded by a wealth of wonderful waterfowling opportunities. Who could blame us for putting our studies on the back burner as the action heated up on public hunting areas such as Oakwood Bottoms, La Rue Scatters, and Piney Point on Crab Orchard Lake?

The gear my two accomplices and I employed never matched our enthusiasm, but that rarely put a damper on our hunting or our zeal. When the weather turned chilly, we would typically bundle up in flannel shirts and multiple layers of sweatshirts topped off by plain brown hunting coats incapable of shedding rain. Rubber hip boots usually kept us dry but never warm, even when worn over three pairs of socks. Our rig consisted of a dozen bulky cork decoys and four Styrofoam mallards, all of which could be squeezed into a pair of gunnysacks. Two dozen fiberboard silhouettes served as our goose spread.

By comparison, today's waterfowl hunting gear is far superior to what was available a generation or two ago. Technology has created miracle fabrics, gas-powered machines capable of going almost anywhere, blinds that can be easily transported on one's back, and many other products. Here's a quick look at a number of waterfowling inventions and improvements that help make duck and goose hunting easier, safer, and more comfortable.

Invention #1

The late Harry Debo and I spent one waterfowl season during our youth hunting a harvested cornfield near Cedar Point in north-central Illinois. We would head to the field when school was over, set out a couple of dozen decoys, and lie down on a bed of burlap bags acquired free of charge from a local supermarket. Those thin layers of burlap were our only protection from the cold, muddy ground, and they did little to hide us from the eyes of wary geese. Thank heaven for modern layout blinds! Who made the first layout is a matter of conjecture, but there are dozens of assorted models available today in a variety of sizes. Nearly every camouflage pattern imaginable can be procured, and these blinds, which fold up and can be carried to the hunting site with little effort, provide creature comforts previously unavailable. Many have pockets for goose flags and gear, flagging ports, padded headrests, cradle seats, and spring-loaded pop-up covers. Layout blinds have opened up a whole new world to those who hunt agricultural fields and many other waterfowl habitats.

Invention #2

Long-time gunning partner Paul Gillmann and I spent several seasons hunting an open-water box blind on 2,400-acre Lake Senachwine, an Illinois River backwater. We also endured more than one frustrating morning trying to find the blind in the fog. After launching the boat in the wet-blanket gloom, we'd find ourselves cruising around in circles trying to locate the all but invisible hide. I can't help but think how much easier navigating in fog would have been with the help of a global positioning system (GPS). All it would have taken was dialing in the correct coordinates and the GPS would have provided a direct line to the blind. GPS units can be used to mark secret spots, hard-to-reach honey holes, and any other places you'd like to find or revisit. GPS is available on many smart phones, too, but I prefer the handheld specialized units, which can deliver a wealth of additional data as well as specific location information. There is no reason to get lost in the fog anymore.

Invention #3

Back in the late 1950s, I watched my father strike a match to two gunnysacks full of wooden decoys. Like everyone else in our neighborhood, we had a backyard burn barrel, and the decoys had been tossed in among the assorted paper and trash. "They're too heavy," my father said of his smoldering blocks that fateful day. "I'm getting some of the new plastic decoys." And he did. Years later, he complained somewhat sullenly that he might have gotten enough money to purchase a new car had he saved those old wooden decoys and sold them to collectors. Fortunately, many of today's plastic decoys offer much more realism than the old wooden or plastic models of yesteryear. Modern plastic decoys are available in all manner of poses, or attitudes. And hunters can also acquire durable, lightweight decoys that swim, dip, paddle, flap their wings, and otherwise create a ruckus on the water. As a group, today's decoys are likely the most lifelike enticements ever created.

Invention #4

Several years ago, while preparing to hunt Arkansas timber, one member of our hunting party was running late. We waited, waited, and waited some more. When the truant finally arrived, we hopped on all-terrain vehicles (ATV), and off we went, through water and muck, driving over logs and traveling perhaps a mile through the swamp. The upshot was that we got to our spot and were set up and ready to hunt at first light. The ATVs made this possible, saving us the time and labor of wading through a morass of blowdowns and unseen underwater trip sticks. First introduced in 1970 by Honda, ATVs have come a long way over the years. In 1982, Suzuki introduced the first four-wheel ATV and other companies followed that lead. The rest is history. These remarkable machines, whether used on dry land or elsewhere, are reliable workhorses that allow waterfowlers to gain access to all types of environments. Even when you're running late, however, you should always proceed with caution and make safety your first priority.

Invention #5

Back in 1991, when the federal government outlawed the use of lead shot for waterfowling, many gunners threw up their hands in dismay. The feds had concluded that too many waterfowl and bald eagles were dying of lead poisoning after ingesting the pellets. The ban created a need for alternative loads that could provide enough speed, weight, and energy downrange to cleanly harvest ducks and geese. Ammunition makers began developing a number of nontoxic loads, including steel, bismuth, tungsten-matrix, tungsten-iron, and others. Like a lot of hunters, I can remember being unimpressed with the ballistics of the  earliest steel loads, but the overall performance of steel and other nontoxic loads has improved dramatically over the years. Always be sure to buy the best shotshells you can afford. Ammo isn't something you should scrimp on.

Invention #6

My first pair of hip boots were my father's hand-me-downs. They were made of rubber and covered with numerous patches. I wore those boots whenever an opportunity arose-when hunting, fishing, or seining for minnows. Rubber and canvas boots ruled the roost for years, because they were pretty much all that were available. Now neoprene is king. Neoprene is, however, hardly new. DuPont chemist Wallace Hume Carothers produced neoprene way back in 1931. Who knows why no one started using this material for waterfowling boots and gloves until years later? Neoprene dominates the chest-wader market and is also used in making hunting gloves. This material, properly maintained, will keep the duck hunter warm and dry. The only downside is that some folks are allergic to neoprene and can't wear that material without breaking out in skin rashes. For those seeking alternatives, much-improved rubber and canvas boots remain a viable option.

Invention #7

My first experience in a boat powered by a mud motor occurred on Georgia's Lake Seminole over a decade ago. My gracious host gave me an extensive tour of this beautiful body of water, including forays into seemingly inaccessible areas. I was amazed at the motor's power and versatility in getting us back and forth to some incredible hunting spots. Mud motors and jet drives are now relatively common in parts of the country where duck hunters navigate swamps, shallow water, stumps, thick vegetation, and other obstacles. A great idea blossomed into an entire industry, as numerous manufacturers now make a variety of these shallow-running motors that take waterfowlers nearly anywhere they want to hunt.

Invention #8

The nation's waterfowl hunters stood up and took notice when Robert W. Gore introduced Gore-Tex, the first waterproof and breathable fabric, in 1976. Old canvas coats fell by the wayside and companies from coast to coast began employing this fabric in their outdoor clothing lines. The arrival of Gore-Tex and the introduction of a number of high-tech insulating materials all but guaranteed that duck and goose gunners would remain more comfortable than they ever dreamed possible during the good old days. Toss in the emergence of dozens of camouflage patterns and the waterfowling fraternity had a whole new look.

Invention #9

The last time I hunted with my Illinois River Valley buddies I noted that neither of them carried a blind bag. I lugged my typical half-ton bag, which contained shotshells, extra choke tubes, a camera, gloves, calls, first-aid kit, a couple of knives, a multi-tool, and who knows what else. Because the clubhouse was within easy walking distance of their blinds, my friends simply stuck a box of shells in one pocket and their calls in another. "We don't need to carry all that stuff anymore," one said. "If we want coffee, we go back to the clubhouse and brew some." Not everyone has that luxury. Thankfully, today's blind bags are far superior to the old green canvas model I once carried on my shoulder. Many modern bags come with different pockets and compartments for separating gear. Most are water-resistant, and some are even capable of floating if dropped overboard into the marsh. Small, medium, and supersized bags are available to fit a duck hunter's every need and circumstance. 

Invention #10

While my memory is somewhat fuzzy, I still recall that my vintage pump gun served me well for several seasons before I traded up. The old slide-action kept on working despite being subjected to significant abuse during my youth. Today, young duck hunters have considerably more shotguns to choose from. The pace of innovation has accelerated, and new shotgun models appear on retail shelves almost every year. Many of these firearms feature resilient plastic stocks and forearms impervious to the elements, adjustable stocks, assorted choke tubes, camo finishes, fiber-optic sights, textured gripping surfaces, and many other options. Overall, technology has made modern shotguns lighter, shorter, and more durable than earlier models. And powerful guns that cycle 3- and 3 1/2-inch loads are now easier on hunters' shoulders thanks to advancements in recoil reduction. As product lines grow, there are more shotguns available for women, left-handers, and youth, which makes it easier for everyone to find a gun they're comfortable with.

Quick Fixes for Better Shooting

Follow these 25 simple tips to bag more ducks and geese


By Phil Bourjaily

Shotgunning is simple. In fact, the phrase "eye on the target, head on the stock" covers about 95 percent of what you need to know. In theory, at least. In practice, however, it's all about the other 5 percent—the tiny details that can mean the difference between a big day in the field and an empty duck strap. Here are 25 tips that will help you fine-tune your shooting technique for waterfowl.


Quick Fix #1: Cut the Kick

Recoil builds bad shooting habits. Cutting the kick makes you a better shot. The best recoil reducer is a lighter load. If your gun beats you up, try a load that's 1/8 ounce lighter and 100 fps slower. A gas-operated autoloader is the second-best recoil reducer, especially if the gun has some heft to it. A good recoil pad such as a LimbSaver or Kick-Eez is yet another buffer against felt recoil. Combining all three can make your shooting a lot more comfortable and successful.

Quick Fix #2: Blacken the Bead

The shotgun bead is not there to be looked at. You're supposed to see it in your peripheral vision to help you keep track of the muzzle-target relationship as you look at the target. As soon as your focus shifts to the bead, the gun stops moving and you miss behind the bird. If the bead distracts you, replace it with a less obvious sight, remove it completely, or blacken it with a permanent marker.

Quick Fix #3: Be Prepared for Problems

A cleaning rod is a handy tool to have with you in case a shot wad, or even mud, gets stuck in the barrel. And sometimes a spray of Break Free CLP or G96 Gun Treatment will help you get through a hunt when a grimy gun becomes sluggish. For any repairs beyond that, the best insurance is an extra gun. 

Quick Fix #4: Shorten Up the Stock

Late in the season, when you're bundled up in heavy clothing, you might find that a shorter-stocked gun is much easier to mount. A good solution is to adjust your stock or have it cut to the right length for hunting in winter clothing. You can always use a slip-on recoil pad for early-season teal or other shirtsleeve-weather hunts.


Quick Fix #5: Mix Loads for Maximum Results

You can get some of the benefits of a double gun, with its two chokes, by first chambering a shell with an open pattern followed by two tight-patterning loads. Winchester Blind Side and Xpert as well as Federal Black Cloud Close Range tend to open up faster than many other steel loads. Load one of those, then follow it with two standard premium steel cartridges in a larger shot size.

Quick Fix #6: Compensate for the Cold

The increased resistance of dense, cold air slows pellets and opens patterns. You might lose up to 75 fps of velocity and shoot patterns that are 10 percent wider late in the season, when temperatures drop. You can compensate for this by selecting shot that's one size larger than the pellets in your regular load and then tightening your choke. Cold air affects larger pellets less than it does smaller ones.

Quick Fix #7: Choose an All-Around Pellet

Steel 2s come as close as anything to an all-purpose pellet for waterfowl. They shoot patterns that are dense enough for close-range teal and yet sufficiently powerful to bag decoying geese. If I had to choose just one load for all waterfowl, it would be 1 1/4 ounces of size 2 shot at 1,450 to 1,500 fps. Take geese out of the equation and I'd go with 3s as a good all-around pellet.

Quick Fix #8: Use Swatter Loads for Cripples

You can use up a lot of ammunition trying to hit a crippled duck or goose in the head. Steel 6s give you greater pattern density for hitting birds in that small, vital area. Shoot a little low at swimming cripples so you don't waste the top half of the pattern. I also keep a bunch of 2s or 4s in my pocket for dispatching crippled geese in dry fields. 

Quick Fix #9: Open Your Chokes

Most waterfowl gunners are over-choked. You don't need tight patterns at 40 yards if you shoot your birds over decoys at 25. Improved-cylinder or light-modified chokes work very well at decoying ranges. When you choose chokes, pattern your gun for the distance at which you expect to take most of your shots. Look for a pattern that puts 75 to 80 percent of its pellets in a 30-inch circle at that range, with good coverage out to the pattern's edges.


Quick Fix #10: Practice at home

The most essential skill in field shooting is a good gun mount. Learning to bring the gun to your face smoothly and consistently helps you shoot instinctively, without conscious effort. Practice your gun mount at home with an unloaded gun. Concentrate on bringing the gun to your face first, then tucking the butt into your shoulder. Repeat this same gun-mounting routine while wearing your cold-weather waterfowling clothes, so you learn to push the gun out and away from your body to keep it from snagging on all those layers.

Quick Fix #11: Match the Target's Speed

Moving the gun muzzle too fast destroys your "feel" for the target and attracts your eye to the bead, which stops the gun. If you start the muzzle in front of the bird, match the bird's speed. However, swing-through shooters should think of moving the gun about 1 mph faster than the bird as they move the barrel through the target. On high passing shots you have to really slow down. Move the gun at half the speed you think you should.

Quick Fix #12: Point Below the Target

Keeping the muzzle below the target allows you to see the bird clearly. That's important, because blocking your view of the target with the muzzle makes you look at the gun, causing you to miss high and behind—the most common way to whiff in shotgunning. The only time you need to cover the bird with the gun is when ducks jump out of the decoys or when you have an overhead shot.

Quick Fix #13: Take Your Time 

Shooting ducks isn't a fast-draw competition. Rushing the shot only increases the chance of a bad gun mount. See the target and move the gun to it slowly. You have more time than you think.

Quick Fix #14: Keep the Gun in Front

The easiest way to make a crossing shot is to never let the bird pass your gun muzzle. Keeping the gun in front of the target will make the bird seem to fly slower, because you won't feel the need to rush to catch up. If your eyes stay on the target, your gun becomes a blur in your peripheral vision as the barrel remains out front.

Quick Fix #15: Focus on the Bird

The more precisely you focus on the target, the better your hands know where to put the gun. If you look in the general direction of a duck, that's what you hit. When you're having a bad day, take the time to narrow your focus to the bird's bill or eyes and the gun will go where it has to.


Quick Fix #16: Talk to Yourself

If you get excited when birds come in, use self-talk. Borrow a technique from target shooters and keep your thoughts performance-oriented. For example, think about what you need to do—such as pick a bird or move the gun slowly—in order to make a successful shot. 

Quick Fix #17: Stay Positive

Slumps happen, and they tend to get worse when your thoughts turn negative. Once you start thinking I'm a terrible shot; I never hit anything, a slump can become harder to break. Think only about what you can control—the next shot. When you miss a bird, think about why you missed it and move on. When you hit one, shooting will begin to feel like the easiest thing in the world and the slump will end.

Quick Fix #18: Read a Golf Book

Reading a book about golf psychology can help you handle the mental challenges of shotgunning, even if you don't play golf. The similarities between the two sports are remarkable; they go far beyond keeping your head down and your eye on the target. One of my favorite golf books for getting into a good shooting mindset is Zen Putting by Dr. Joe Parent.

Quick Fix #19: Avoid Mental Blocks

Although it's important to have confidence in your equipment, don't get stuck on a particular brand of shotshell, a specific velocity, or a certain pellet size. If you do, you'll be off your game the first day you have to shoot something else. 

Quick Fix #20: Visualize the Shot

Visualization is a lot like daydreaming, which is how most of us get through the off-season anyway. When you visualize, you are actually training your mind. See yourself shooting successfully. The more completely you can imagine the situation—the cold, the wind, the sights and sounds—the better. Picture yourself doing the things you need to do to be successful, and this positive outlook will carry over into your shooting.


Quick Fix #21: Help Yourself Up

When hunting in a layout blind, some hunters will dig a shallow depression beneath their seat so they're already partially sitting up in shooting position. Others will dig below the foot of the layout to gain the leverage needed to sit up more easily. Either one of these tactics will help make it easier to sit up and shoot in a layout blind. 

Quick Fix #22: Cover Your Face

Wear a face mask or paint. Dimming the shine of your face could give you a slightly bigger window of opportunity to keep your head up as the birds come in. It's much easier to shoot if you don't have to look up suddenly and try to find a target when someone calls the shot.

Quick Fix #23: Keep Your Hands Warm

Shooting with numb fingers can be challenging. Chemical hand warmers are great, just as long as you can keep them dry. However, rechargeable devices such as ThermaCell hand warmers and Flambeau heated hand muffs will keep your hands warm even in wet weather. Taking along extra pairs of gloves also helps.

Quick Fix #24: Have a Clear View

Pulling the bill of your cap down too low on your face can make it difficult to see the target and potentially cause you to lift your head off the gun. Tip back the bill of your cap or turn it around, and you'll see better and have an easier time keeping your head down as you mount the gun. 

Another way to improve your ability to see waterfowl is to leave your shades at home. Sunglasses can help cut down glare if you're looking into bright sunlight, but dark lenses make it hard to see ducks and geese. Instead of sunglasses, wear shooting glasses—and choose the lightest tint you can use without squinting. You'll see targets better that way.

Quick Fix #25: Set Your Feet

Being able to move your feet when you're standing in the water is often a luxury. Usually you have to shoot with your feet stuck in the mud. If that's the case, set them so you are facing slightly to the right (if you're right-handed) of where you expect to shoot. It's much easier to swing to your left without binding up than to your right.

Picking the Right Shotgun for New Duck Hunters

Consider comfort first when gearing up a new hunter


by Aaron Fraser Pass

If location is the key element in real estate value, comfort is the critical aspect of successfully starting a new shooter into the world of waterfowling. The comfort factor mostly falls into three categories: comfort with the gun, comfort with the recoil, and comfort in the overall situation.

This pretty much applies to any beginner, but for adult males, things are somewhat simplified. Most waterfowling guns are built to suit a grown man's dimensions. This doesn't mean that all guns are automatically perfect for any given guy who wants to give waterfowling a try, but at least they are closer to a good fit.

A recent issue of DU Magazine focused on the growing number of female waterfowlers, and waterfowling dads have always tried to introduce their sons to the sport. (So maybe now they will deal with their daughters, too?) With women and youngsters, the waterfowling mentor has more of a challenge, beginning with gun fit. Most factory shotguns come with about 14 inches of stock behind the trigger. That's about right for the theoretical "average guy" standing about 5 feet, 10 inches. For taller men, or those with very long arms, adding a bit of pull is as easy as adding a thicker recoil pad.

Women and young people tend to be smaller and have less upper body strength. Both factors should be considered. Trying to shoot with a too-long stock is a real exercise in frustration. The gun is hard to mount, requires excessive and uncomfortable adjustment when it is mounted, and pretty much prohibits the development of a good shooting form. Typically, shooters with a too-long stock let the butt drift down onto the upper arm rather than mounting it solidly into the "pocket" of the shoulder. With bad form, the beginning shooter will not shoot successfully and will suffer more recoil than necessary.

Many shotgun manufacturers offer "Ladies and Youth" models. These have stocks that are about one-inch shorter than their standard models and are a good starting place. Remember, though, that cold-weather hunting means bulky coats, and that may demand an even shorter stock.

Most Ladies and Youth models are in 20-gauge. Within reasonable range, the 20-gauge can be a good waterfowl gun, particularly with some of the premium nontoxic pellets such as Bismuth, Federal Tungsten Iron, Kent Impact, and Remington Hevi-Shot. With steel pellets, the 20-gauge is more range-restricted, but with a beginner, that's not necessarily a bad thing. With a 12-gauge gun of the correct dimensions, the lighter steel loads work just fine and don't produce excessive recoil.

Most adult women remain the same size, but kids grow. Take that into account when shopping for a "starter" waterfowl gun for a youngster. It would be smart to select a model for which adult-sized stocks are also available from the manufacturer.

As mentioned, gun fit is an important aspect of the recoil issue. Gun weight also affects recoil because heavier guns absorb more of the jolt. However, this must be balanced with the fact that some female and most young shooters have less arm and shoulder strength. Light guns firing light loads are a tried-and-true solution. Also, there are several recoil-reducing devices available. Some are inserted into the stock and some go in the magazine. (Some of these replace the three-shot plug—but you should check to be sure.) The magazine devices have the added benefit of putting more weight out front, which promotes a smoother swing and better follow-through.

One of the most effective recoil-reducing measures is the development of good shooting form through lots of practice. Proper gun mounting and a good shooting stance help deal with recoil. Much recoil can be caught in the hands before it hits the shoulder. No one can teach a new shooter to do all this automatically and consistently; it has to be learned and ingrained by practice.

Practice-shooting at clay targets also adds greatly to the "comfort in the situation" part of the equation for all beginning waterfowlers, regardless of size, sex, or age. Having a degree of confidence in one's shooting ability is a great way to begin the first actual waterfowl hunt. There are enough new challenges in the real hunting experience that comfort with the gun shouldn't be one of them. Actually bagging a few birds is one heck of a good start. There's nothing like a bit of success to encourage beginners to want to go waterfowling again.

Turkey Decoys: Do's and Don'ts

The use of turkey decoys is probably at an all-time high these days. I can remember the first decoy I used many years ago when they first came out. It was UGLY. But I killed a lot of birds with it in front of me. Beginners luck? Were the turkeys in a mood where they would make a beeline to anything remotely resembling a hen? Who knows, but in those days, while I found some success, a turkey decoy worked against me as much as it worked for me. Today though, decoys are more realistic than ever, strutting tom decoys are growing in popularity and we learn more about how to use a turkey decoy effectively each year.

Setting Up Montana Turkey Decoy

Yet, there are still times when a turkey decoy seems to be the reason for a spoiled hunt. They're easy to blame, but I think it's more operator's error than the decoy's fault. Let's take a look at some common errors and what we can do to avoid them.

1. Be Sure your Turkey Decoy Setup isn't a Turnoff

Male Tom Turkey Breeding Female Hen Decoy

As turkey season progresses, so does a gobbler's desires. In the early season, they are looking to secure their status on the pecking order. The strutting tom decoy that worked so well on opening weekend is now scaring sub-dominant birds away. They have been whipped a few too many times and don't want to scrap with a dominant tom again. Now's the time to switch to a single jake decoy with a hen or two. They will see your setup as a chance to redeem themselves.

Once a longbeard shifts his focus from fighting to breeding, a jake decoy (or strutting tom decoy if I know the bird I have targeted is a boss tom) placed over a hen in breeding pose is my go-to setup. Later, when hens start nesting, I will use a single hen decoy in a feeding pose around strut zones after the morning flocks disperse.

For help with choosing the right setup based on the phase of the season, download this free turkey decoy setup guide from Montana Decoy. It will get you on the right track, but you still may want to experiment or finely tune your setups based on the hunting pressure and personality of the birds in the area you are hunting. Just be sure to give a longbeard a representation of what is motivating his actions.

2. Take Yourself out of the Scene

For some reason, many hunters like to place their decoy directly in front of them, and in-line with the direction a bird is likely to come from. Big mistake. While the decoy will distract him, if you are in the background, there's a good chance you will be busted.

Based on your scouting information or the direction of the tom's responses to your calls, make an educated guess as to where he will approach from. Place yourself between the bird and the decoy. This way, his vision will be "locked" on the decoy and he will be pulled past your location. Quit calling once the bird is committed to checking out your fakes and get ready to shoot.

3. Don't Hide your Decoy(s)

For a decoy to work, the turkey needs to see it. Use them in open areas such as field edges, logging roads and sparse timber. If I am working a bird in heavy cover, it's probably one of the few times I will not put a decoy out. In these situations, the longbeard is searching for my calls and we are in close quarters. If he stumbles on a decoy, he may get spooked. Decoys work best when toms can see them from a distance. Use the terrain to your advantage, whether it's a high spot in a field or the top of a gently sloping wooded ridge.

4. Set your Decoy System Close

This is a common mistake. Let's say your maximum range is 35 yards, so that is where you place your decoys. But sometimes, stubborn gobblers hang up, strut and wait for hens to come to him, leaving you with no shot if your decoy is set up at the limit of your shooting range. It's disheartening to watch the decoys do their job and still not have a shot.

Set your decoys up at 15-20 yards, and even closer if you are using a bow. This way if the bird does hang up, he is still in range. And if he doesn't, well, I'll take a 20-yard shot over a 35-yard shot any day.

5. Secure Your Decoys on Windy Days

A light breeze will give a decoy some subtle movement and really increases the realism of a set up. However, heavy winds can cause decoys to spin like a top, and that is not natural. The solution is easy. Carry some extra stakes, cut down some old arrows, or even use sticks to prevent a decoy from whirling in the wind. Prop the turkey decoy in place on both sides of the decoy as shown in the photo above.

6. Don't Attract Other Hunters

Turkey decoys don't just attract turkeys. They will bring in predators and other hunters, too. Safety is my first thought when I decide whether to put a decoy out or not. Today's decoys are so realistic, that I leave them at home when hunting public land. Even hen decoys can cause problems on public land. So limit your decoy tactics to private land where you know the other hunters, and are aware that decoys are being used.

Turkey decoys work. There's no doubt about that. But success is not as easy as setting up a decoy, calling a few times and pulling the trigger. Put some thought into your setup and you will find that decoys will do the job more times than not. And most of all, be safe.

There's nothing like the feeling of seeing a longbeard storm your setup!  I hope these tips help you bag a limb hanger this spring.

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