Summary: Here's the most important element of any duck decoy spread or pattern...
Like almost all other hunters, we too searched for that magical decoy spread that would assure us of limits of ducks every time we took the field. We were searching for "the pot of gold at the end of the decoy rainbow". But unfortunately what we found is that there was no "one size fits all" spread.
Instead of continuing to look for the "Magical Decoy Spread" we started to focus our attention on the common characteristics of successful setups that we had used or had seen other hunters use. What we came up with was a set of keys or fundamentals that have allowed us to set up successful spreads regardless of the area that we hunt.
What Is A Landing Zone?
Ever watch a group of ducks, especially larger groups, work a duck decoy spread 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. This is especially true with mallards, gadwall, and other larger ducks versus smaller ducks such as teal. A landing zone is an invitation. It's 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.
1. Landing zone(s) should be an open area(s) in your decoys that is unobstructed and clear of other dekes, trees, willow bats, or even large clumps of vegetation. This area or pocket should be placed within your spread where you want the ducks to commit and is best determined by your blind placement. This area should be positioned so it will provide easy kill shots well within shotgun range. The X's in diagrams 1 and 2 show examples of this.
2. Next, determine how large the landing zone or pocket should be. To do so make sure the area is large enough 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 landing zone, 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 landing zones. The landing zones in diagram 2 are examples of what we'd use if we were decoying small groups or singles or pairs.
3. Finally, regardless of the pattern you choose, make sure that your landing zone resembles a C or a U. Doing so will insure that you have an area or space that the ducks can approach and come right into clear of any obstructions. In a marsh situation versus timber this means no trees, not even small willow bats. Once again, you'll see that although the decoy patterns are different in diagrams 1 and 2 they both have areas that resemble C's or U's. Notice that in both diagrams, these areas are clear of other dekes thereby reducing the chances of having the incoming birds land behind your setup or drift off.
Remember, it's not necessarily the pattern chosen that will determine your success or failure, but rather if it has the proper use of the above keys to a successful duck decoy spread. Creating landing zones or pockets in our opinion is the first and most important key you can take to the field. Also don’t be afraid to make adjustments if they are not settling in as they should. We have made changes moving decoys around several times in the past until the ducks came in as we wanted them to.