Duck Decoy Spread Landing Zones

By Jeff Matura
limit of mallards taken on upper mississippi river

Like almost all other hunters, we too searched for the best decoy spread that would assure us limits of mallards and a few bonus ducks every time we took to the field. We were searching for "the pot of gold at the end of the decoy rainbow". But unfortunately what we found is that no one decoy setup will work any hunting situation.

Instead of continuing to look for the pot of gold that simply didn't exist we started to focus our attention on the common characteristics of successful spreads that we had used or had seen other hunters use. Essentially we learned how to adapt our decoy setup to the area, conditions, and species being hunted.

Fundamental Element Of Any Decoy Spread

Ever watch a group of mallards, especially larger groups, work a hunters decoys and then slowly drift away? While other factors such as lack of concealment or poor calling may be the cause, many times this occurs simply because there's no place for them to set down as a group or there may be a subtle obstacle downwind. This is especially true with mallards, gadwall, and other larger ducks versus smaller ducks such as teal that seem to just plop down anywhere. A landing zone is an invitation to those birds that are in the air to join the birds that are already on the ground or in the water. It's your "Come On In" sign along with a location that allows the birds to do so that is within shotgun range.

Tips For setting Effective Landing Zones

1. Should be an open area(s) in your decoys that is approachable downwind and unobstructed of trees, willow bats, or even large clumps of vegetation and also placed where you want the ducks to commit. Blind placement options will also needed to be taken into consideration as this area should provide easy kill shots well within shotgun range. The X's in diagrams 1 and 2 show examples of this.

2. Size should be determined to accommodate the size of flocks you'll be working. As a rule of thumb, it's better to have a space that is a little on the large size rather than one that is too small. You will notice that in diagram 1 we have a large area free of decoys, which is what we'd use if we were trying to fool large groups of ducks. Diagram 2, on the other hand, has a number of small pockets and are examples of what we'd use if we were attempting to attract small groups or singles or pairs.

3. Downwind approach to this area/s must be free of any obstructions that ducks do not feel safe flying near. In a marsh situation versus timber this means no trees, not even small willow bats. When hunting timber it often means a larger opening in the canopy during heavier winds.

Diagram 1.

example landing zone

Diagram 2.

alternate landing zone tactic

Making Adjustments

Strong winds above 20 mph often change the way ducks will work a decoy spread, often resulting in difficult shots as the birds work unpredictably. We struggled with this scenario on a hunting trip in Missouri until we noticed the mallards were not circling, but rather just hovering downwind just out of shotgun range looking things over or skirting off to the side. Once we widened the opening to our landing zone and brought the furthest decoys closer we quickly shot a 3 man limit of greenheads. It was amazing to witness how such a small adjustment turned frustration into a deadly trap.

decoy spread adjustments for strong winds

Closing Thoughts

Getting stuck in a rut will always be the waterfowl hunters gravest mistake, one must always be willing to adapt and making changes to a landing zone to accomadate current conditions is no exception.

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