Blind Date with a Duck – October 2013
Hunters Find Many Options to Hide from Waterfowl Story and Photos by John N. Felsher
Many Texas duck hunters sit comfortably in pit blinds sunk into rice field levees, platforms built on stilts over coastal marshes or blockhouses floating like islands on inland lakes. Sure, big roomy permanent blinds make hunting comfortable, but what happens when birds don’t come to that location?
By the time ducks migrate through a 3,000-mile gauntlet from Canada to the Texas rice fields, lakes and marshes, survivors learn to detect permanent blinds. They can spot big blinds sunk into mud or built over open waters and may avoid them. Ironically, hunting on public lands can sometimes give sportsmen advantages over people tied to fixed locations. Many public properties prohibit permanent blinds. Sportsmen who arrive first get their pick of places while latecomers must move elsewhere. Therefore, hunters on public land must frequently move to new locations, which keeps birds guessing.
Daniel Felsher waits for birds while hunting in a swamp
along a river. Photos: John N. Felsher
Although not as cushy as some permanent blinds, temporary blinds or natural cover gives hunters more flexibility to keep up with the birds or change positions as necessary. Setting up each morning, hunters in temporary locations can position themselves to take advantage of prevailing winds while hunters anchored to permanent blinds might grow tired watching ducks sail over their heads to land elsewhere.
Where possible, no blind makes the best blind. Even wily mottled ducks flying along the Texas coast grow accustomed to seeing tall reeds flourishing in various places. Hunters who make the best use of natural cover already in place can often find better gunning than sportsmen sitting comfortably in permanent blinds. In southeast Texas marshes, waterfowlers can crouch down in high native grass. Some hunters sit on waterproof shell buckets or camouflaged seats for comfort. In east Texas swamps, many hunters stand behind trees or in tall reeds. In other places, sportsmen may hide behind log piles, shoreline debris, bushes, rocks or similar cover.
Unfortunately, good duck holes seldom come equipped with perfect natural blind materials readily available in the right spot. Therefore, hunters wishing to hunt ponds with sparse cover must bring their own blind materials. Obviously, good blind materials should match the surroundings closely, not stick out like woodland camo in a brown marsh. In fact, the blind should not look like anything at all.
Some sportsmen make their own portable blinds. They staple camouflaged cloth or netting to stakes and drive the stakes into the mud around themselves. With such a system, a sportsman can pick a spot, hunt for a while and then easily move to another location to take advantage of prevailing winds or changes in bird flights. At the end of the hunt, they literally pull up stakes and leave.
A Labrador retriever prepares to fetch a duck killed by Steven Felsher during a hunt from a permanent blind in a marsh.
Many manufacturers sell various ready-made portable blinds or blind materials to handle diverse hunting situations in different types of habitat. Among the most popular portable, and even permanent blind materials, artificial or woven natural grass mats blend exceptionally well in a brown marsh. Sportsmen can use them in a variety of configurations.
Some sportsmen use netting or woven grass mats to hide their boats. Light and maneuverable, small camouflaged boats can venture into many river or marshy backwaters that ducks frequent. They also make excellent platforms for hunting waterfowl on open bays where no other cover exists. Specially designed pop-up blinds on pyramid-shaped frames attach to small boats, allowing sportsmen to easily set up in minutes. As ducks approach, drop a side and begin shooting. To relocate, simply lower the frame, pick up the decoys, find another spot to toss out decoys again and begin hunting without leaving the boat. Some mobile waterfowlers may hunt two or three spots in a morning.
“Small boats give hunters mobility to go where ducks want to go,” said Mike Caruthers, a waterfowl hunter. “With a boat, we can move easily, so ducks don’t get used to seeing blinds. Small four-stroke outboards today don’t make much noise and get double the gas mileage of old two-stroke engines. Because of the improved gas mileage and quietness of the motors, sportsmen running four-stroke outboards can cover more territory when scouting for new spots and may even hear ducks quacking.”
takes a shot at a flock of ducks from a portable blind made from
Hunters in low cut agricultural fields like those found in central Texas need special blind options. Some reclining goose blinds look like camouflaged sleeping bags, good for lying in Texas stubble fields. Some blinds actually look like huge goose decoys. Hunters get inside of them, recline in the fields among the regular decoys and look out through holes in the shells. When birds come within range, hunters pop the blind tops and fire at geese that are very surprised to see humans with guns erupting from their cousins’ butts.
On agricultural fields, birds expect to see some manmade objects, such as farm equipment, silos or haystacks. Blinds that resemble large rolled hay bales make excellent concealment for hunting birds around crop fields. Birds easily see them, but they see such hay bales all year long. The big rolls don’t seem threatening to them — until sportsmen inside of them pop open the tops and begin firing.
For the same reason, plastic tree stump blinds offer great hiding places for hunting on wooded shorelines or river sandbars. Along rocky lake shorelines or beaches, sportsmen may use blinds that look like huge boulders. On both, the tops open so sportsmen can shoot at approaching birds.
If caught away from a blind with ducks heading into range, freeze. Sportsmen should lower their faces to keep ducks from seeing their eyes. They should also keep their legs and arms tight to their bodies and hold their guns vertical along their sides like a soldier standing at attention. Ducks would more likely notice someone jumping for cover than a camouflaged person imitating a tree.
By definition, any blind should blend in with the surrounding environment so much that ducks won’t even know it’s there. Whether hunting in flooded timber, a lake, a marsh or a soggy agricultural field, let ducks and geese see only what they would naturally expect to see in that area.