Diver Spread: One perk to hunting open water is the opportunity to shoot diving ducks such as scaups, buffleheads, canvasbacks and goldeneyes. Hunting these species is addictive; the shooting is challenging, and learning effective decoy arrangements can be something of a science. Many diver hunters opt for classic long-line rigs, but with so many realistic decoy options for various diver species on the market, you can create an effective, natural spread with fewer decoys. We often set two or three downwind lines of bluebills with a larger cluster near the landing hole, just in front of the blind. We add half a dozen buffleheads downwind of the bluebills and a half dozen to a dozen goldeneyes 15 yards upwind. All together the spread is highly visible, natural-looking and quick to deploy. The separate groups of species-specific decoys usually make for a good mixed-bag shoot.
Shoreline Puddlers: Puddle ducks often swarm to big-water areas when cold weather freezes the nearby shallows. Although they rest on open water, they still need to feed. The best food sources are often found along mud-flat shorelines. When scouting, it’s not uncommon to find a concentration of puddle ducks (gadwalls, especially), stretched across a shoreline. Imitate that with your decoy spread when hunting from shore. Place the majority of your decoys in a cigar-shaped cluster upwind of your blind, with a couple dozen stragglers trailing downwind. Don’t worry too much about a landing hole; if it looks natural, the ducks will work it.
Sandbar Honkers: Ducks and geese often loaf, rest and roost around exposed offshore sand and rock bars. These can be good places to set up in a laydown blind, but you’ll need a big spread to be effective, and the use of goose decoys will be especially important. A laydown blind sticks out like a sore thumb on a sandbar, even if it’s dug-in. Goose decoys, even a shell placed over you, do wonders to divert the focus away from your blind. Blend a spread of shells (easier to carry in a boat than full-bodies) on the bar with a few floaters in the water (in front of and behind you if possible), and then finish things up with your duck decoys. Ducks often work into the goose decoys as well as anything else.