How Much Cover Does Your Duck Blind Need
Sometimes, when the weather is right, birds are fresh and the sun blazes at your back, you can enjoy great shoots with only sparse cover. But on most days, you must become invisible to paranoid waterfowl. Duck and goose hunters obsess about concealment because the old cliché is true: If you ain’t hidden, you ain’t shooting.
Here’s a quick primer on how much and what types of duck blind cover you’ll need for a few common hunts. And when in doubt, switch setups or pile on some more cover. You’ll rarely regret it.
Divers, Shore or Open Water
Let’s start with the easiest cover conundrum. Divers fly low to water and, if relatively unpressured, aren’t the wariest ducks. During many hunts, you can simply eliminate your silhouette so you don’t stick up above the horizon. That's one reason why open-water layout boats have worked for decades. Likewise, you can sometimes shoot lots of birds by lying flat on sandbars or huddling amongst shoreline rocks or grass. If you’re hunting from a boat blind, snug it next to some background cover, such as brush or rocks, to break up its outline.
Wear camo that blends into your surroundings — Realtree Max-5 on the prairies or Timber on shoreline rocks, for example — and you should be OK. If the sun is at your back, you might not even have to cover your face. If it’s at your side or at your front, use a facemask or face paint to reduce glare.
Caveat: Heavily pressured divers can be as wary as any mallard. In hard-hunted areas, stale birds often fly relatively high, letting them easily pick out phony-looking spreads, ill-conceived shore blinds or even layout boats. When that happens, you must also conceal yourself from above, which brings us to the next setup.
Puddlers (Marshes or Timber)
Puddle ducks and geese over water might be the toughest decoy customers. They have learned that danger lurks in every cattail patch, and their sharp eyes pick out sloppy setups long before they’re in shooting range. You must bring your A-game to get them close, and that requires 360-degree concealment at water level and cover from above.
In areas with trees — flooded timber or wooded creek bends, for example — the equation gets easier. Suit up in the best-matching camo (again, Realtree Timber is a good choice), snug tight to a big oak, tupelo or cypress with lots of overhead branches, cover your face and resist the urge to move.
Lakes, rivers, marshes and potholes require more preparation. Boat hunters can conceal their crafts and everyone inside by using homemade or commercially available boat blinds, which you can also augment with natural cover, such as cattails, willows or grass. Use a model with a roof, whether it’s a partial roof or a swing-open model. Being unseen at eye level does no good if birds can look down and see three rednecks huddling together in a 16-foot jon boat.
Finding overhead cover is more difficult when you hunt on foot or from a small craft. Sometimes, you have few options. Locate the tallest cover available, whether that’s willows, phragmites or thick cattails. Then, wedge yourself into that spot and keep a low profile. Further, avoid disturbing the area around your hide. Keep everything as natural as possible so birds don’t notice that new blob near the water.
Field hunting for ducks and geese brings feast or famine for concealment. It’s easy to hunt cut cornfields or lush alfalfa, as there’s plenty of waste material to cover blinds and hunters. Harvested oat, wheat, barley or bean fields are another matter, as those fields often resemble a pool table.
Use whatever cover you can locate or gather. In many situations, you’re better off setting up at a rock pile, grassy ditch or fence line off the X instead of trying to hide in a barren field. If you must hunt in the open, find natural cover that mimics the stubble or field surface. Pick foxtail or other weeds from a ditch, and smother your blinds with that vegetation, taking special care to blur the edges and corners. Buy some hay, and spread it around your setup mimic waste grain or stubble. During late-season hunts, use cheap artificial snow from aerosol spray cans to blend in.
When all else fails, place field blinds close together in one giant blob rather than several distinct lumps. It’s easier to cover a mega-hide than multiple setups. And use raffia grass or other commercially available cover aids to blend into the field.
And if birds flare, don’t shrug your shoulders and hope the next flock won't be so smart. Get up and improve your hide.