This is a real simple rig and set of 1 hand made plywood Swan and just 4 decoys. This is a Widgeon set we use sometimes when the prize birds are scarce mid-season. Widgeon love to follow the Swans around for a free cheap meal of the grasses and bugs the Swans dig up from the lake bottom. We call them "good manner" Widgeon. Sometimes Widgeon are so dumb, they sometimes they seem to be drunk. and indeed they are expert and adept educated professional panhandlers. In the ol' days the ol' time waterfowlers on the Chesapeake Bay would say of ducks like Widgeon, that "they have good manners", meaning that they toll into the decoys easy.
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The perspective In this photo is from the blind at the green X. There are 13 decoys in this rig. It is windy and there is an opening between the decoys for birds to toll into and land. This puts the possible landing area hopefully in the 20 yard range as shown by the yellow line. The red line that ends at the 30 yard range is the next best option for the gunner. The red hatch mark 50 + line on the back of the set over the marsh, is to show again, how smart birds will cruise the perimeter of the decoy set, just out of good shooting range. Many times they will cruise even further out from 50 to 100 yards. It depends on their age, experience and wisdom.
The wind is coming straight toward the blind and the gunner. This makes the set not the preferred landing site, right between the decoys as ducks like to land into the wind in the preferred exposed breast up toll which exposes their vital organs to your load of shot. But, there was no way here to set up into the wind because of the close backing of the marsh which had little water. Notice that the blind and decoy blocks are facing away from the sun and light. There is not a lot of sun this day, but one never knows when it may make an appearance during a hours long hunt. This gives the gunner the advantage as birds will be landing and tolling into the light and makes things more comfortable for the hunters eyes not to mention premium viewing of the marsh and flights of ducks. This type set puts the ducks to disadvantage even though there will be mixed tolling angles because of poor wind placement.
There are many kinds of layouts for decoys. Most have been discussed in many waterfowl books and magazine articles like the ones a gunner may see in DUCKS UNLIMITED MAGAZINE or Website. The main thing is to keep it natural.
Although there have been many writing about how to hunt waterfowl thru the years, there have been few written on how to hunt Alaska wildfowl. Alaska has many unique circumstances where methods to hunt ducks and geese need different techniques than areas further south. Alaskans live near the northern breeding grounds Where somewhere between 10 and 20 million wildfowl live in the summer months.
Some very basic methods of hunting ducks and geese are the same everywhere. It is the fine points that make for a successful hunt. Knowing those methods will help you to be in the 10% of fowlers that Fish and Game statistics reveal get the lions share of the birds.
Hunters that hunt Alaska waterfowl should be at the top of their game. We owe it to this great land that is truly wild. Respect for this great sport and the people that have come before us makes us not only better hunters, but, more important, better conservationist and sportsman.
Second only to camouflage is decoy placement. You should have good decoys to begin with, but proper placement of your decoy rig is paramount to having a successful day on the marsh. You don't need a lot of decoys and in fact, many times less is more. A decoy rig like the one above is what I call a natural rig, traditional rig or "match the hatch" rig. There is only a dozen decoys but they are set out in a very natural way to lure wise Mallards. Many times I use only 6 to 9 decoys, but everything must be "proper" as the old gunners used to say. Wind, cover, water conditions, time of day, sun, weather and more all play their part. Few get as close to nature as those who sit in duck blinds or small marsh boats. It's all how much you want to learn from that!
You can see that this rig is not set in open water like most other rigs the ducks will see, but set in the vegetation for a natural look. Not only are these decoys large, but the low sun angle gives them even greater visibility. A rig like this can be seen at least 1 mile or more out by passing ducks and no spin-wing decoys needed.
In Alaska, you will be hunting early birds fresh from the vast far north tundra, and woodland lakes, rivers and sloughs. Bright colored late season decoys do not apply here like in the lower 48 states. In Alaska, you can have a higher hen to drake ratio, than down below in the southland. Although there are some very good plastic decoys out there today, we prefer to honor North Americas greatest tradition - waterfowling - and use wood decoys a lot of the time. (I do use plastic decoys also, especially goose decoys.)
Duck hunting weather in September and October in South Central Alaska is mild. As it gets cold up North ice will start to form on lakes. For those who want to rough it, there are still ducks to be had and a set like this will pull them in. Notice how the decoys are set like they are welcoming incoming ducks to the open water in front of them. The secret of this set is that the ducks have no where else to land, except the open water in front of the decoys. Some birds will sometimes land on the ice too. Most times wildfowl will toll into the open water located 20-25 yards from the blind for perfect breast exposed shot that kill humanely and quickly, much better than being eaten alive by a predator.
This decoy set is a mixed mallard and Pintail rig. You can see 4 pintails in the Right bottom corner of the photo. Pintails like to toll to their own kind if possible and sometimes will drop into a rig from great heights out of nowhere. that is an open space is left inside the yellow circle as not only is it exciting to view such a toll from high up, but this set up is effective for shooting also. Hopefully tolling pintails will not drop in past the decoys into the 40 plus range. The way the other decoys are placed tends to pull the tolling birds toward the blinds as depicted by the 2 red x.
This is a set for 2 gunners and the best blind is at the left of the photo. It will provide good shooting ranges at 15 to 35 yards. Because of wind and the temperament of incoming birds, the right blind at the right side of the photo could be just as good as the left blind because nothing works picture perfect in wildfowling. When you deal with the wild, you deal with unpredictability as wildfowling combines poker, chess, golf and more into one sport like no other hunting or shooting sport can, that is why it is one of America's great traditions. In many ways wildfowling is very much like America itself. Self-reliance, risk taking, skill, knowledge and moxie all in one grand package.
( for more advanced information on waterfowling you can order the download PROFESSIONAL SECRETS OF WATERFOWLING on the bottom of this page)
In this decoy set I have used 15 ALASKA GUIDE series decoys to make it easy to see the pattern the decoys are set in and the resulting open spaces needed to give the ducks landing areas within gun range. The red B is where the Blind is located. The 3 red X are open areas that because the way the decoy rig is set gives the ducks natural landing areas between and also outside the rig. This is how we would want the birds to land, but that is not always possible and wise birds may land outside of this area almost out of gun range.
This picture shows the same decoy set as above but from a different angle and perspective. Ducks flying are constantly getting a different angle of a decoy rig. Especially in high winds. That is why it is good to hunt in high wind conditions. Wise birds do not get as much of a chance to do fly overs of your decoys, blind or boat and make a leisurely decision of why they would want to land there. the very best place you want the ducks to try to land is in the red circle and red x 15 to 20 yard area. As the birds toll into the decoys with breasts exposed makes the best shot always.
In the yellow circle at 20 to 35 yards, shy ducks are most prone to present side and incoming head shots that present a small target area. If they toll in with wings and breasts exposed in their most venerable position, this shot is almost as good as the 15 to 20 yard shot. Most of the time ducks shot in these areas in the described body positions, make for fairly easy shots, even for less experienced gunners. Depending on choke selection, these yard measurements can be extended 5 yards or more. I find modified choke works best for my gun in most of these described decoy rigs.
If the ducks are shot over open water as shown, retrievers are seldom needed as the ducks are clean kills and do not make for cover in the shore vegetation if you are using good ammo and are a fair shot. If you shoot out over the marsh vegetation, especially high mash grass, like in the photo, not only are the shots harder to make, but you will lose some ducks, even with a dog.
A different perspective and angle is shown here of the same rig above. this is what I call a "Max" set as it makes the maximum use of only a limited amount of decoys. (18) It is enough of a spread or set because the decoys are well spaced. A sure sign in the marsh of lazy or amateur duck hunters is bunched up decoy rigs. Although there are times when more bunching makes more sense. From Experience you get to know the difference. In this rig,There is enough room for 2 different gunning positions.) this rig gives the ducks room to land inside the decoy rig and not make for long shots outside the rig. This rig is also positioned on a flight way that brings ducks cruising along the shore line so that if one gunner misses the shot, the other can get a chance to bag the duck. This flight way is known to be there from experience in the area. Learning to scout and spot these mini-flyways is important to the overall success of a good hunt. Few learn about nature as duck hunters sitting for hours in blinds or boats if they are observant. Participants in the life and death cycle are always more connected to nature and it's wildlife citizens than mear watchers and observers can ever be. Hunters are part and parcel of natures grand scheme and it is A basic human right to be participants.
Although the above photos of sets and rigs are designed to show the best possible areas for ducks to land and toll into for good positive results for clean in range kills, there are other options if you feel you are a good enough shot. Longer range shots are possible for experienced shot gunners. Making a clean long shot on waterfowl is the same as making a long shot in golf or any other sport and the feeling of accomplishment of long training and practice makes perfect is hard to beat. Sky-busting by amateur wing shots is another story and only leads to cripples and lost ducks. To help with this look for the dark large preening duck at the far outside of this rig. This is called a "Jon" duck and is a lost tradition of older gunning times. For more on Jon or John ducks see my download on sale below as this page is getting too long.
In this photo the gunner is in a totally different perspective looking out from the blind toward the horizon. The decoys are shown partially misted to show the relevance of this set. This set is called a line or divider rig. It is a fast rig to set and makes a division between the blind and the outer water area. The close distance in the large red x 10-15 area of the rig can be adjusted for different conditions or preference. One problem a gunner faces is if the decoys are rigged out further in the water, shy ducks will land further away on the far side of the decoy blocks making for more difficult gunning.
Close in decoy rigging as shown often gives the gunner good medium range shots over open water at the 20 to 25 yard range. If a gunner has a good number of tolling birds coming into the close 10-15 yard range, it may be wise to let them go as at this close range the shot pattern is not as large and fully opened and can make for misses or birds that are hit by more shot then necessary, making for mince meat. If birds are plentiful, you will have enough coming into the small red x 20-25 yard range to make for interesting sport and meals.
In this decoy set shots can be taken at the 25 + range if you feel capable and comfortable doing so. But in this particular location with heavy marsh vegetation beyond 25+ yards it may not be wise to take the shot. Many times wise Mallards and Pintails and sometimes other ducks will cruise the perimeter of the decoy rig at distance. They will cruise at 50 + yards as they know from experience, that most hunters will miss at this range. The red 40 + range depicted in the photo and the black arrow line in the sky clearly show this. You will need a very good dog to consistently find birds this far out. By the time rover gets there wise wounded birds will be far away. The main purpose the retriever will be serving is being out in the open for so long as to scare potential new tolling ducks from thinking over your decoy spread and making the decision to commit for the finish.
(more about this can be learned in our advanced decoy download : PROFESSIONAL SECRETS OF WATERFOWLING that can be ordered from this website for only $25)