On the Silver Screen, they were called The Dirty Dozen—12 World War II soldiers sentenced by a military tribunal to hard labor, but each given a full pardon if they completed an impossible mission deep into German territory. Some made it, some didn’t. In the end, the objective was attained and the Allies marched forward. Here, too, is a similar yet different Dirty Dozen. These 12 strategies, as were the 12 military men, are a means to an end. Your mission is not to conquer #### Germany, but to become a more proficient waterfowler. Use these tools as you see fit. It’s H-Hour, let’s march!
I – Pattern that shotgun
The first is also the most elemental. However, it’s also the most often overlooked by waterfowlers. Patterning your shotgun need not be complicated. A range, a variety of non-toxics, an after-market choke tube or two, and a short list of necessities—targets, target stand, hearing/eye protection, black marker, and so—is all that’s needed.
II – Take a shooting lesson
The truth is that we can all benefit from some one-on-one instruction when it comes to our shotgunning skills. Shooting schools such as Gil and Vicki Ash’s Optimum Shooting Performance Shooting School (www.ospschool.com; 281-897-0800) are offered around the country. Believe me, an afternoon spent with someone like Gil Ash can really make a difference.
III – Learn to hide
I think it was Phil Robertson who told me there are but two rules to successful waterfowling. “Get under the ducks,” he said, “and then hide.” It’s pretty simple. Hardcore concealment means paying attention to the details. Hands, face, gun, blind, dogs—they’re all factors in the grand equation.
IV – Realism and natural movement
In order to compete up and down the flyway, your spread is going to have to look its best. This translates into movement as well as stationary appeal. Get the best-looking decoys you can afford. And remember, numbers don’t always mean everything. Two dozen lifelike blocks can, and often will, out-produce five dozen duck or goose monsters.
V – Try a unique species
A half dozen widgeon, sprig, or gadwall separate your spread apart from the countless all-mallard rigs that birds have encountered up to this point in the season. Bluebills off to one side, or a cluster of drake pintails not only accomplishes this air of distinction, but these species’ predominantly white coloration makes your spread highly visible.
VI – Roll your own decoys
Carving your own decoys accomplishes one primary goal, it makes your spread different than all the rest out there. Your mallards look different, your ‘cans look different, and your Canadas, they look different, too. It’s all about realism, and at the risk of repeating myself, it’s all about giving the birds something different.
VII – Speak a different language
There are times when something other than that old Mama mallard QUACK can spell the difference between a hefty duck strap and an empty piece of leather. Maybe it’s time to try a widgeon or sprig whistle, the nasaldink-dink of the grey duck, or the growl of a drake bluebill. It all comes down to how fluent you are in your second language of choice, duck.
VIII – Ask the professionals
We can ask Fred Zink, Shawn Stahl, Field Hudnall, or Buck Gardner questions about why this or that tactic does or doesn’t work. Take a minute. Pick up the phone or log onto websites like www.averyoutdoors.com or www.zinkcalls.com, ask them yourself. Experience is the best teacher, these folks have a ton, and they’re more than happy to share.
IX – Coots!
All-coot spreads are extremely realistic. When I’ve done it, I’ve set 20 to 25 coot decoys in a tight feeding mass, with a minimum of two pair of those tethered to jerk cords. A pull of the string sets the whole knot to thrashing. Birds, particularly widgeon, can’t seem to resist.
X – Don’t hesitate to move
Trust me, the birds will tell you what you’re doing wrong. But more, they’ll tell you when you need to relocate, either yourself and your spread or the blinds, if goose hunting, as they relate to the rig itself. Do not hesitate to make the move, regardless of how comfortable your situation seems.
XI – Downsize your operation
“My late-season spreads are changing by numbers,” says Ron Latschaw, the man behind Final Approach. “I’ve had some of my best shoots ever over just eight decoys. It’s magic when they come into eight. There’s no getting away from you.” One note, if you’re going to downsize, it’s vital that you upsize your decoys in terms of realism and natural movement.
XII – Think small skiffs
Last, get yourself a little boat. Small low-profile craft like ATTBAR’s AquaPod or Carstens’ Canvasback can provide you access to places where the big-boat guys can’t go. And when it comes to successful waterfowling, being antisocial is just fine.