Lynn Burkhead — Balmy or not, duck season arrives again

Herald Democrat
With local duck hunter’s thinking about sunscreen here in early December, it’s time to spruce up the decoy spread. One way to do that is by adding other puddle duck species to your decoy rig, something like these wigeon and gadwall blocks soaking up a few rays on a sunny early winter day.

A few years ago, local duck hunters had to add an unusual item to their blind bags, one that pretty much told the story of what a down season it was going to be.

What was that item? Sunscreen, that’s what. Needless to say, when you’re looking for your Costas sunglasses and worried about an SPF rating, there aren’t going to be very many great mornings in the duck blind.

Now here a few years later, we’re back to another La Niña fueled autumn and early winter. And just like a few years back, the need for Ray Ban’s means there are any greenheads or their puddle duck cousins in the Red River Valley.

 But even with the unseasonably balmy Chamber of Commerce weather currently gripping the Texomaland area, with the Dec. 4-Jan. 30 second split about to open up this weekend on both sides of the Red River, you still set the alarm early, load up the duck dog and the decoys, and head for the blind to see what might t.

Because what else can hunters with a closet full of warm and waterproof clothing do when temperatures are in the 60s and 70s like they have been this week?

With more mild weather conspiring to dampen Christmas holiday enthusiasm and scatter the limited flocks of migrating waterfowl currently in the area, some duck hunters may opt to stay at home and wait for Old Man Winter to pay a real visit before Christmas Day.

But the better option for area waterfowlers is to get out to the local marsh and use a few tricks designed to spruce up the decoy spread, all in an effort to try and lure in a few migrating ducks destined for the dinner table.

One tip that I’ve mentioned before is to add a splash of color to your spread, putting out a few pintail, wigeon or even canvasback decoys along with the standard spread of mallard blocks. In fact, that’s what one of my sons is about to do this weekend thanks to a FedEx shipment of Avian-X wigeon decoys that were delivered this week. But I digress.

Staying on topic, you might even want to try a few Canada goose floaters or a full bodied snow goose or two, a decoy rig trick that can help to grab the attention of passing ducks and build confidence as they approach the spread that all is safe and sound for a waterfowl landing party to commence.

A second tip is to create an attractive and inviting landing zone in front of your duck blind, something that can help seal the deal on a wary flock of greenheads or gadwalls wheeling overhead and looking for a place to sit down.

“I’m a firm believer in leaving a definite hole out in front of your blind,” says my friend Jim Lillis of Sherman. “I like to do a horseshoe or a J-hook upwind of the blind, leaving a definite hole for the ducks to land into. I like to spice (that hole) up with a half-dozen teal decoys or maybe a little group of mallards that look like they just came in and landed in that hole. That tends to draw in birds.”

In addition to the advice mentioned above, yet another tip to spruce up your December duck decoy spread is to adjust the size of the decoy rig up or down as the ducks dictate. In other words, try to match the hatch.

What do I mean here? Simply this — if you’re seeing flocks of 10 or 15 ducks on the stock tank that you’re hunting, then you probably don’t want to throw out 50 decoys the next morning, even if your wife wants them out of the garage.

Ditto for throwing out two dozen toy-soldier looking mallard blocks on a heavily hunted marsh or reservoir where reality dictates much larger spreads since flocks of 20, 30, 40 and even 50 ducks can often be seen.

Yet another way to spruce things up a bit in December is to be sure that your spread contains some sort of motion, whether that’s provided by the age-old jerk string decoy rig, by using a spinning wing decoy, or a swimming and/or fluttering motion decoy.

While such movement is less important on windy days, it can be crucial for convincing a flock of wary and local wise guys ducks to fly by your blind when there’s barely a ripple on the water. And there’s been a lot of that weather as of late.

And finally, think about replacing the dark green or brown lines that are attached to your decoy and its weight.

Why is that? Because by the time ducks fly south from Canada and down into the southern end of the Central Flyway, they are looking for anything out of the ordinary, including dark decoy lines jutting out from the bodies of each individual decoy in the spread below.

Or maybe even a suntan lotion bottle laying outside the blind. But again, I’m wandering off topic here.

So what’s the remedy for spooking ducks with dark colored decoy lines? Simple — switch to the clear Texas rig set-ups that can either be handmade in the backyard or can be purchased at most waterfowl hunting supply stores here in North Texas (think Academy, Bass Pro Shops, or Cabela’s here). Texas-rigs are easy to use, clear as a bell and will not spook ducks that are looking for a reason to fly right on by.

December ducks, especially when the weather is more spring than winter like, can be a bit on the persnickety side. And that can mean that the hunting can be difficult.

But not impossible, especially if you’ll make some sort of effort to spruce up your mid-season decoy rig.

Even if Old Man Winter seems to be currently vacationing at the beach. And by the way, don’t forget to lather up with Coppertone because who wants to get sunburned in a December duck blind?