By John Pollmann
When it comes to putting together a successful hunt for ducks or geese, few pieces of the puzzle are more important than concealment. The slightest shuffle or anxious glance from hunters are more than enough to send wary waterfowl on their way.
In recent decades, mobile blinds have revolutionized the way hunters stay concealed from the watchful eyes of decoying waterfowl, allowing them to stay comfortable and hidden, while also affording the opportunity to pull up stakes and be exactly where the birds want to be. Read on to find out more about how to use three popular mobile blinds and improve your chances for success this fall when waterfowl seasons arrive.
Generations of waterfowl hunters have used box-style or a-frame blinds, but modern, collapsible versions of these blinds are helping this method of concealment make a resurgence.
“For many models, you can fold them up and throw them in the back of a truck with no problem, but in the field they provide for a great hide and you’ve got a little room, too,” says veteran guide and hunter, Ben Fujan. “I think folks enjoy being able to move around a bit inside the blind, pour a cup of coffee and have the chance to visit quietly without disrupting the hunt.”
Fujan uses custom-built a-frame blinds to conceal hunters in a number of settings to decoy mallards, Canada geese and more. Field edges are often great locations for these blinds because the taller cover helps break up the outline of the blind, but Fujan frequently sets up the blind using the natural features within a field, too.
“Even when I’m trying to shoot mallards in a field of combined corn, I’ll set up in a finger of cover in the field if it gets me a little closer to the ‘X’ or provides a better use of the sun and the wind,” Fujan says. “It does not have to be the heaviest cover. I’ll use anything I can to break up the profile of the blind to make it work.”
One advantage of hunting along a field edge, however, is that it often forces ducks and geese to work in front of the blind, Fujan says, as the birds tend to not want to work across a fence or taller cover.
“Really any time I’m hunting out of an a-frame, though, I’m a firm believer in not putting any decoys behind me. Everything is out front. I don’t want birds trying to land behind me, which is especially important on calm days,” Fujan explains. “And I don’t want hunters trying to swing guns around to shoot behind the blind.”
Fujan’s approach to safety also extends to dogs, which are kept outside the a-frame.
“When you’re dealing with guns and maybe heaters in a small space, I just don’t want to throw a dog in the mix, and I also think that they have a hard time marking birds, even if there is a door,” he says. “I always try to put them in their own blind somewhere in the shadow of the a-frame.”
Shadows also play a role in concealing the opening of the a-frame, Fujan says, as an emphasis is placed on having plenty of grass over the heads of hunters who are sitting on director-style camping chairs.
“I know buckets are popular, but I think they’re too low. I like to have hunters sit a little higher so their caps are level with the lid of the blind. I think they actually move around less, because they aren’t straining to try and see birds working,” Fujan believes. “But again, this comes back to the need for a blind that has great overhead cover.”
Fujan employs the help of the other hunters to get this job done. When planning for a morning hunt, he always blocks off the last 15 to 20 minutes for blind work. After the blind is put together and in place and the decoys are set up, he hands out a number of zip-ties and tells the others to rake up corn stalks or other vegetation from the surrounding area to make bundles of cover. He’ll stuff most of the bundles in the blind, while others will be added overhead. The rest go by his side to be added as needed throughout the morning.
“When it’s done, we take our places, pour cups of coffee, sit back and wait for the show to start,” Fujan says.
With its light weight and ability to provide low-profile concealment in just about any cover type, the layout blind has become a top choice for hunters across the flyways, whether they are targeting mallards and pintails in a Dakota stubble field or decoying brant geese along the edges of a wind-whipped salt marsh in New England.
“The layout blind works in so many situations because you’re not dependent on an edge or fence line to provide the background necessary to build a traditional blind. You’re able to utilize the available horizontal and vertical cover exactly where the birds want to be,” says Spencer Proulx, a professional waterfowl guide. “In terms of concealment, I’m not sure if any other piece of gear has had the impact that layout blinds have had. It was a game changer when it first came out, and it remains a great option for hunters today.”
The layout blind typically sees the most action in field hunting situations. Depending on the location in the different flyways, this can mean using the blinds to hide in harvested field peas, small grains, corn, soybean stubble and alfalfa. Their use doesn’t stop there, however. Wetland edges, riverbanks, sand bars and even on the ice while using a snow cover, the layout blind is truly a versatile piece of gear. The first step toward staying hidden in just about any of these situations, however, actually takes place the moment the blind comes out of the box from the store.
“New blinds have a sheen that needs to be softened, so you can either apply a layer of mud using your hands or even a cheap paint brush, or you can lightly spray a coat of flat black or brown spray paint,” Proulx says. “The idea is to get rid of that shine and create a background of natural color that matches the tone of the ground as you’d see it from the air.”
Proulx then recommends attaching a base layer of grass — real or manufactured — with zip-ties to a blind’s stubble straps in order to help save time in the field.
“The manufactured grass stands up a little better over the course of a season, and it is available in a lot of different colors to match different hunting scenarios,” Proulx says. “I keep a set of blinds with a base of green grass to use in alfalfa or similar situations and then one with a base more suited for wheat stubble or corn. From there it is really important to top them off in the field using the exact cover you’re hunting in, making it look as natural as possible. Keeping a plastic rake and cordless or gas hedge trimmer in your truck or trailer will help save a lot of time getting this done.”
While it is ideal to set up exactly on the “X” in the field, Proulx tries to utilize any nearby dips or natural depressions where he can place the blinds to even further lower their profile. It also helps to utilize areas of taller stubble or other vertical cover, he says, to take advantage of shadows and break up the outline of the blind. Blind spacing is also important.
“Perhaps the biggest change I’ve made since I started using layout blinds is to move away from putting too much space in between the blinds, especially if I’m hunting with a larger group,” Proulx says. “The birds seem to key in on individual blinds, but they seem less wary of blinds set up shoulder to shoulder, which appear to be more of a natural contour in the field.”
And even with all the advantages provided by a layout blind, Proulx says hunters always need to remember one important rule: If you can see the birds, they can see you.
“The headrest in the blind is just that — a headrest. It is not a shoulder rest,” Proulx says. “It’s tempting to poke your head up and look around, but even if the rest of your hide is great, the birds are going to see that movement and flare.”
While boats have long been used by waterfowl hunters to access hard-to-reach places holding ducks and geese, modern versions have taken mobility and concealment to new heights.
This includes hunting in managed areas of flooded crops and moist-soil vegetation, where shallow-draft boats equipped with covers and blind doors provide layout-style hunting on the “X.”
“With this style of boat, you are completely mobile and can hunt in just inches of water, and because the boat has such a low profile, you can hide in anything,” says Josh Ditch, a pro-staffer for MOMarsh Boats. “You can hunt just about anywhere the birds want to be from day to day.”
Similar to other mobile blinds, Ditch does much of the concealment work on his boat blind before the hunt, using zip-ties to attach several colors of synthetic grass to the blind to provide a base layer that breaks up the outline of the boat.
“This way, all I have to do is grab a few handfuls of smartweed or cut off a few branches of buck brush to throw on top of the boat when I get to the spot I’m hunting,” he says. “I tuck the boat back up in the weeds or the corn or up against the trees, throw out my decoys, and I’m ready.”
The size and mobility of boats make adjusting to the sun, wind or bird behavior that much quicker, too.
“It is nothing to hop out, move the boat 180 degrees or slip it to the side to get the sun at your back,” Ditch says. “These small boats can do a lot.”
Larger water bodies often require a bigger boat, however, but the goal remains the same — use the boat to hunt where birds want to be or a set up that provides high visibility in an area of heavy bird traffic.
Finding these areas on lakes, rivers or large wetland complexes requires scouting, which is something best done from the boat, if possible.
“I’ve gotten into situations where, from the road, a cattail edge or finger of cover looks one way, but on the water the reeds are really sparse or there is a big mud flat or something like that,” explains duck boat aficionado, Phil Kahnke. “If you can do it without spooking a lot of birds, it really helps to get out there in the boat before you try to hunt.”
Kahnke grew up hunting out of boats in Minnesota and to date has designed four boat blinds. His latest version is a customized blind built on an 18-foot long, 5-foot wide modified v-hull jon boat that can hunt three hunters and a dog. For a boat this size, Kahnke looks for areas that will provide good cover in front of the boat and cover that’s tall enough in back to help cast shadows.
“And I’m always concerned about breaking up the ‘black holes’ or those openings that provide hunters with a little visibility,” he says. “I keep bundles of grass in the boat for this reason that can be added as needed.”
With hunting in a boat comes plenty of safety concerns, including inside the blind. A layer of closed-cell foam underfoot helps provide a nonslip surface for hunters, while a dog box built outside the blind keeps Kahnke’s retriever safe and guns and heaters inside undisturbed by an energetic Labrador.
“If done right, a bigger boat allows you to stay concealed and comfortable. Hands down, it is my favorite way to hunt ducks and geese,” Kahnke says.
About the Author: John Pollmann is a freelance writer from Dell Rapids, S.D. Follow @JohnPollmann on Twitter.