Duck Hunting photo

Illustration by Chad Gowey

I started from scratch three months ago. Pulled off the old burlap, pulled out the old corner stakes. This duck blind wasn’t quite right last season. Too many ducks looked too long and too hard. It seemed fine to me, wedged against a root ball, but I was doing the selling, not the buying, and the duck blind lacked in customer satisfaction. So on a hot day in August, I tore the blind down to bare mud and hauled in a rubber tub filled with fresh burlap, camo netting, cable ties, tomato stakes, wasp spray, handsaws, and a portable drill and staple gun. I was in no rush. I’d work till I was invisible.

When it comes to blinding up on a duck hunt, I’m a stickler for details. Those hunters who eat Pop-Tarts from the foil wrapper while standing up in the blind just don’t get it. We flare more birds than we realize because half of the birds we spook slip off to the side before we even see them. How much does tucking away shell boxes matter? What difference does it make to cut fresh brush? If it makes a 10-yard difference to 10 percent of the birds, that’s enough. When it comes to playing hide-and-seek with a black duck on full alert, I don’t cut corners.

Blind Spots
I’ve hunted from some crazy blinds—crazy good and crazy awful—and I’ve learned something from each one. In the Northwest Territories, I shot whitewing scoters from hand-built rock blinds that didn’t involve a single nail or square inch of netting. I’ve kicked back in an Arkansas double-decker blind with a cook kitchen and bunk room. What made it work were six guys who didn’t move a boot toe when the ducks were overhead. My buddy Scott Wood and I once dug trenches in the mud beside a North Dakota wheatfield puddle, and covered ourselves with mud and stubble. Nothing swanky about that, but when you’ve got nothing to work with, it’s best to do as little as possible. It’s about minding the details. Once on a sea duck hunt, my guide anchored a 24-foot white fiberglass boat off a Chesapeake Bay marsh spit, tossed out decoys, cranked up the radio, and told us to load up. He was wearing white Chuck Taylors. We didn’t shoot a duck, and didn’t deserve to.

The most interesting blind I’ve hunted from was at the end of a miles-long airboat ride at dawn to an empty arm of the Great Salt Lake, the Wasatch Mountains rising like a mirage in the distance. Thin marsh straggled across the water a few hundred yards away, but otherwise we were surrounded by 5 inches of mirror-flat water. We lay out in coffin blinds that barely touched the lake bottom, as exposed as dead clams at low tide. But around our coffin blinds were hundreds of plastic silhouette decoys—ducks, geese, and coots with not even an eye dot for detail. In the low sun, each bird cast a shadow image of itself, doubling the appearance of the spread. The coffin blinds were mere black blobs in a dark cloud of 500 other black blobs. Greenwing teal and northern shovelers piled in without a blink. It was a brilliant sleight of hand. We were hiding in plain sight.
That’s the trick.

Vanishing Act
Back in the swamp, I was after something a bit more substantial than a magic mirror trick. I’d leased the swamp, so this blind was staying put. I had to figure out a place for the dog, and Jack was old enough now to want to bring along a hunting pal. This blind had to be larger than the last. Before I started pounding in corner stakes, I put my duck glasses on.

What didn’t the ducks like? What was making them nervous? Maybe the blind caught too much early sun. If I angled it a few feet toward the south, that would give it another hour in the shade. And most of the birds flew from the north end of the swamp and came in high. From that angle, the blind might have appeared as a dark slit on the end of an island, something off just enough to steer them away. I cut a couple of cedars from the nearby woods to place across the top of the blind once we were in position. And to mitigate the larger box shape, I cut a holly sapling and jammed it into the mud inside the blind, against the back wall. I’d never tried that before. It would stay leafed out all season long, and we could trim any offending boughs on the first morning’s hunt. It gave the blind a 3D look that helped it melt away.

I held off on any hunter comforts: no bench seat, no place to stash a heater, no way to fry bacon. We’d walk in with biscuits, sit on a bucket, and hunker down and hunt.

When I finished I was drenched with sweat and bleeding from cuts and scratches. I stepped back to take a gander. That blind held the DNA of Great Plains pit blinds and Great Salt Lake granite cliffs and green timber hides in the Mississippi bottoms. It was perfect, even though it didn’t look like much. In fact, it looked like nothing at all.