PEA ISLAND DECOY SPREAD
Here’s an innovative decoy spread I developed that works particularly well on a day when you’re hunting and there are variable winds. I’ve dubbed it the “Pea Island Spread.”
I’ve noticed many times while observing birds at rest on the area’s waterfowl preserves a certain pattern that occurs when waterfowl are most at ease.
First, the swan spread out at least 20-30 yards between each bird and virtually all are head down feeding. Around each swan is a tight cluster of 4-6 widgeon (who are thieving food from the longer necked swans). Very occasionally is a tight cluster of different fowl (teal, pintail, gadwall, etc.)
The result is a ‘loosey goosey’ spread with a lot of empty spaces around tight clusters. This way, no matter which way the wind swings, there are open landing areas for the birds to settle into.
It also helps if you shorten your decoy lines in these conditions so as to reduce tangling as your decoys swing in different directions.
DECOY PLACEMENT AND OTHER GOOD STUFF TO KNOW
I’m lucky to waterfowl in an area where, on any given day, I can bag any of 23 species. Of course, you can’t rig representative decoys of all species. To improve your odds, first and foremost learn to recognize fowl in flight. Second. Learn the sounds the various species make then find the most effective reproducers of those sounds. (Note that I didn’t say ‘most expensive’). Learn to work your calls, learn when to call, and most importantly, learn when not to call. Why in the world people pick up a call when they spot a bird with wings already set toward them is beyond me.
But by far your greatest asset in water fowling are your decoys. Couple your decoy placement with waterfowl’s behavioral tendencies and you’ll guarantee yourself consistent success.
Where I hunt we shoot mostly puddle ducks. We also are blessed to be surprised at any time by virtually any species of waterfowl. This includes geese, sea ducks, mergansers, coots, and divers, as well as nearly all puddlers. Here’s how I rig to assure my best shot at success.
I usually put out a flock of 75 to 85 decoys. (Not counting the 50 to 120 snow goose silhouettes that are placed in the spartina grass behind the blind. We aren’t allowed any Canada’s, so I don’t rig any. The flock consists of 2 to 15 swans, (or 5 brant), 6 canvasbacks (mostly drakes), 30 widgeon, 6 to 12 gadwall, 2-8 teal (green and blue winged), and 24 to 36 pintail, 4 mallards, 2 to 4 blacks, and 1to 6 buffleheads.
My best wind is a side wind, right to left. This is the best rig for this situation. Your decoy flock is always constructed from the farthest point upwind to the farthest point downwind.
I usually employ modification of a double diamond rig. Imagine two triangles with their flat bases facing each other and a large, nearly empty space in between.
The sharp point of the upwind diamond points directly into the wind and the point of the downwind diamond points directly away from the wind.
The upwind flock is always the larger of the two. Generally, the larger the decoy, the farther it is placed upwind, the smaller birds won’t cross over larger birds when landing. (It’s a matter of disrespect to the larger birds and the smaller will usually receive an ass-whipping and get run off for this transgression.
In the dark of pre-dawn everything seems farther away than it really is. Very often, as the sun comes up, you realize that all your decoys are way too close to the blind. To combat this (if the water is shallow enough to wade) actually pace off the distance from the blind to your farthest decoy upwind. Rig from there. If you can’t wade, ‘guestimate’, but your first decoy is the key.
We hunt wide open areas so we have to create a flock that can be seen from a long way off. A densely packed flock can be seen from much father away than a loosely spread flock. I always put some big birds at the very head of the rig, (either swan, geese or brant) to improve the ‘sightability’ of the rig and they also act to force the ducks to land prior to crossing over them. Start your flock at the extreme edge of shotgun range (70-75 yards) with your larger birds in an umbrella shape.
Swans and your various geese are more adept at feeding than the ducks as their bodies and necks are longer. Widgeon are natural born thieves. They steal grass from the larger birds as they come up for air.
Widgeon also thieve from divers. Therefore the cans are the tip of your upwind diamond, intermingled with the widgeon, and then the gadwalls.
Gadwalls have an annoying habit of coasting the extreme outer edge of your spread then sitting 70-75 yards away. They never come closer after landing. That’s why your gaddy decoys make up the close point of the upwind flock.
A final finesse point is to make the upwind flock a little asymmetrical. You’ll want the close half of the flock to have more birds and be a little larger. Just a smidge of a hook should grace both the inner and outer edges so the ass end of the flock forms a slight cup. This makes for a nice oval landing zone. The downwind edge should end 15-20 yards to the right as you look straight out (west) from the blind. The outer decoys should be 50-55 yards from shore.
The downwind flock begins 45-50 yards from the upwind. It must be tightly packed, symmetrical, and closer to shore. It is a lead in to the landing zone. The outside decoy should be 30 yards from shore and the far downwind decoy should be at the edge of shooting range. The inside point should be 5-10 yards from shore.
There ca be no pockets or straggling decoys in the downwind edges of the downwind flock. If there are, virtually all decoying birds will sit short of your rig just shy of the pockets or stragglers.
Pintails really dislike crossing over other birds as they land. Blacks refuse to cross over anything. Therefore they constitute the downwind flock.
Your black ducks are the most vexing to rig as they sit at the tail, won’t cross over anything, and nothing likes to cross over them. Therefore I put them on the outside point, but blended in with the pintails.
You now have a large empty hole in between the two diamonds. For the finishing touch put the teal (1-6) in the big empty space. I prefer a group of 4 teal 15 yards from shore and another pair a hair farther out and fifteen yards farther upwind.
Your last decoy(s) are the bufflehead. They don’t like to hang with any other birds, so set them off by themselves. Anywhere, but not within your main rig.
Okay. You’re done. Now go stash you boat and shoot some ducks.
Most of your birds will line up on the downwind flock but since there are no pockets will coast just to the outside then do a dip and fall in behind the widgeon, just ahead of the teal. Boom. Right where you want them.