By Chris Larsen
They say what we build is an extension of who we are. That’s pretty scary if applied to the duck blind builders of today. There are duck blinds with boat garages, restrooms, full kitchens, and even big screen satellite televisions. The guys who build these things take duck hunting to an extreme most of us will never reach. Most duck hunters have a few bags of decoys and a boat blind. Some of these rigs come off an assembly line ready for the hunt. Some are designed on the back of a tavern napkin. They all tell a story of who the man behind the camouflage really is.
Hiding in blinds takes us back to the days of our youth. Many built tree forts or constructed makeshift shelters in the woods out of junk collected while perusing old wood piles or dump sites. Show me any extensive piece of public land and I’ll show you a dump site. I certainly don’t condone trashing our forests but these piles served as supply yards for the forts of my youth. Before learning to wrap camouflage netting around conduit, we learned how to fashion a pile of pallets into a first rate fortress. These building projects of our youth prepared us for future careers as weekend duck blind engineers.
While never a stranger to improvisational construction techniques, my duck hunting is now done with a minimalist approach. No mallard mansions or even boat blinds for me, thank you. I prefer sneaking into an area by canoe or kayak. After stashing the craft, cattails or trees become natural blinds. After fighting crowds during my early duck hunting days, peaceful sunrises in areas most hunters ignore serve as my reward. Getting out on big water is still fun but a creek or secluded pond has become my favored duck hunting grounds. Becoming a duck sniper is rewarding and economical but not easy.
Big flocks of ducks are rarely seen in these types of places. Scouting is key and patience is even more important. However, the ducks that are in these locations are usually responsive. They are not as pressured as big water ducks. The first step in scouting backcountry birds is getting online. Google Earth and other sites with satellite maps make finding out of the way areas easier. I look for oxbows or backwater ponds connecting to rivers. If there are agricultural fields in close proximity, even better. Many river hunters stick to the main channels, oblivious of the extensive backwaters they motor past every morning.
Check your state regulations for access rules. In Wisconsin, if your feet are wet you are not trespassing. However, finding hidden hunting holes on public land is even better. This allows you to utilize the shoreline for better concealment. More importantly, if you shoot a duck that lands on solid ground, you can legally retrieve the bird. This really comes in handy if you are hunting on a narrow creek. Most people think public land is overrun with hunters and in some cases they are right. However, a few hours studying satellite maps is sure to yield a few locations that most guys never knew existed.
After you have targeted a specific area, getting there is the next step. Most of these places require a kayak or canoe to access. Some of them are only passable on foot. Hiking through a creek in the dark while wearing waders is no small task. The good news is small decoy spreads are all that is needed. For creeks, eight decoys is a good number. Small spreads can be carried in a backpack, making the hike a little easier. For backwater ponds, a few dozen decoys is plenty and canoes are perfect for transporting this type of spread.
Even if you’ve done your homework, sometimes the ducks call an audible. The great thing about minimalist duck hunting is the adaptability. Since the gear is limited, changing plans is simple. If you notice the ducks like to land 50 yards upstream from you, move. There is a reason they are doing that. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why. However, after a few outings to the same area you will learn there are certain spots the birds like to land in.
Minimalist duck hunting is great for the budget conscious hunter. There isn’t a lot of gear required and you probably won’t run into any crowds. The best part is having an opportunity to hunt an area that no one else may have hunted for years.