Dear Writing Huntress,
I’ve always duck hunted with my dad and brothers, but would like to finally get out and go by myself. I generally stay in the boat while they’re setting up, so I’ve never done any duck spreads. Do you have any pointers for how to set decoy spreads?
Spread Aide in Spokane
Dear Spread Aide,
Duck hunting, as you’re probably aware, is a fickle thing. I can’t count the number of times that, after scouting for days and finally figuring out where the ducks are, and then after hours of setting up, the ducks decide to go elsewhere. It’s a common frustration in duck hunting, and there’s only so much you can do when it comes to spreads and working ducks and geese. But, a good spread and game plan can vastly improve your chances.
Before you set a spread, remember to evaluate the following factors, as they will impact your luck in the field:
“The X” is where the ducks are actually going to feed — it’s where they want to be, no matter what. I’ve been on the X many times, and even when mallards are getting shot at, the pintails behind them still load in. When you’re right where you need to be, light calling and accurate shots are necessary, because even if you were blowing on a kazoo, the ducks will still want in.
The non-X is the area between the roosting site and the X. The non-X isn’t necessarily bad, but be ready to run traffic, e.g., employ large spreads and a lot of calling to get the ducks to notice an area they weren’t necessarily planning on visiting.
Remember that ducks fly into the wind while landing. This is because it not only slows them down, but also allows for a quick getaway in the event something seems off. Spreads, therefore, should be structured around where you want the ducks to land or fly for an optimal shot. Keep an eye on your weather app in the days preceding your hunt for wind strength and direction. Unfortunately, even if you plan perfectly, wind can change at the last minute or during your hunt. Being able to adapt to this situation can make or break your day.
While some claim the best duck hunting is done on clear days, others say it’s on the worst of windy, dreary days that the ducks fly best. Personally, I agree with the latter. It’s been on -10 degree days with a 20-mph wind that the ducks did exactly what I wanted them to. Study the ducks and how they’re responding to the weather in your area in order to maximize your hunting experience.
The kind of spread you put out largely depends on what’s worked in the past, the wind and weather conditions, and what you’re comfortable shooting. That being said, I’ve collected the 5 spreads we’ve most used with success in the past. But, first, a quick spread thesaurus, so you’ll know exactly what I’m trying to convey.
Quick spread thesaurus
Good for low- or high-wind situations in fields or low water, the horseshoe shape, constructed from all sorts of decoys including, but not limited to full bodies or even floaters sans weights. This spread allows for ducks to have a designated landing site, and is optimal for blind concealment.
Ideally for geese over land or water, as they like to fly down the far end. This is more of a pass-shoot spread for those set up on the side of the J.
The X spread
This spread is perfect for low-wind situations, as it allows for 4 different landing zones in each corner of the X. Keep in mind that this spread will allow for different shots, so ensure all the hunters in your party know where everyone else is at all times.
The shallow-water spread
This is good for knee-deep water or less. Being still is the name of the game with this particular spread, as cattails and the natural camo generally don’t move that much.
The deep-water spread
Weighted decoys and long-line stringers make this spread a perfect way to shoot ducks over deep water. Be sure to use weighted floaters with enough line to sink to the bottom.
Obviously, these are not the only decoy spreads you can use in order to fill your limit. Be creative, but remember to really watch the wind and have a lot of fun!