Trouble Shooters: Tips on Decoy Spreads, Duck Identification, and Shooting More Wood Ducks

Three experts break down what you're doing wrong during early season hunts, why you're screwing up, and how you can fix it

wood duck in flight
A jerk cord in low light can bring wood ducks into your shooting hole.Mark Miller/Images on the Wildside

Early season duck hunts can be difficult. Sometimes your decoy spread might not be working. Or you are having trouble identifying drake teal from hens, or the wood ducks are flying right by you and won't drop in for a shot. Field and Stream magazine is here to help you have your best waterfowl season ever. Pro hunters Bill Saunders, Matthew Cagle, and Travis Mueller share their duck hunting secrets to help you kill more ducks.

Bill Saunders

bill saunders duck hunter
Bill Saunders, Bill Saunders CallsBill Saunders

The Problem: Your duck spread is not working. Birds are making a final pass out of range, then moving on.

The Cause: "The ducks are definitely seeing something they don't like. It might be your decoy spread, but it could just as easily be your hide. Time to get out and look it all over."

The Solution: "Check for dark shadows. Is the blind too high? Maybe you need to remove brush, not add it. Ensure the spread isn't too near the blind. Birds shouldn't see both at the same time."

Matthew Cagle

Matthew Cagle waterfowl hunter
Matthew Cagle, Rig 'Em Right WaterfowlMatthew Cagle

The Problem: It's teal-only season and you're having trouble telling them apart from other small hens.

The Cause: "This can be tough even for experts, especially when many duck species are still wearing drab eclipse plumage. Add poor lighting, and proper ID is a challenge."

The Solution: "Teal tend to fly in larger groups; woodies in pairs or small flocks. Let the pairs go at first, and note the differences. After you see a few, teal become easier to identify."

Travis Mueller

travis mueller of avery outdoors
Travis Mueller, Avery OutdoorsTravis Mueller

The Problem: Wood ducks are flying right by your shooting hole but won't drop in.

The Cause: "Woodies are usually on their way somewhere specific. If you're not exactly where they want to be, they're not likely to slow down or stop."

The Solution: "A jerk cord in low light can work. Also, wood ducks like fellow wood ducks, so try species-specific de­coys and calls. It's still a tough sell, but there's no harm in trying."