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Decoys attract the ducks, but not always to the right place

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 10:09 a.m. CDT

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(MCT) — SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas — Even in the dark, there’s no mistaking that buzz bomb sound.

It’s the sound of air as it rushes over a duck’s wings.

From tiny teal to monster mallards, when ducks set their wings and drop their landing gear, they create a noise unique to their species.

Even in the dark, especially in the dark, it’s a sound that seems to come from everywhere at once, and it shocks the system the first time you hear it.

“They should come from behind us and turn out over the lake and back to the decoys,” says Daniel Cerretani, our young guide on this hunt. I’m lying in the comfort of a layout blind, watching shooting stars and waiting. In 30 minutes it will be sunrise and legal shooting time arrives any minute.

We’ve come north from Yantis with Cerretani, who guides duck and goose hunters for Hidden Lakes Hunting. The youngster knows his ducks, knows his calls and knows this East Texas country.

“We have 32 different lakes that we hunt,” Cerretani says. “The ducks spend the night on Cooper Lake or Lake Sulphur Springs and then they spread out to smaller lakes to feed during the day. We’ve had some aquatic vegetation that’s come up since the drought, and they’re feeding on that.” Cerretani says the shooting only gets better as the season moves along. We’re hunting just before the Nov. 25 close of the first part of duck season. The second part, or split, of the season will run from Dec. 8 to Jan. 27.

“When the second split opens, that’s when we get most of the mallards,” Cerretani says. “It’s usually a mix of mallards, gadwalls, widgeon and some pintails. You’ll see teal and diving ducks, and you can usually shoot shovelers any time you want.” Our blinds are laid out on the dam of a small lake a mile or so from Lake Sulphur Springs. As we lie quietly in the dark, a small meteor streaks across the sky, a positive omen maybe for the hunt to come.

Just before dawn, the first flight cuts across the purple sky with that distinct roar. A feathered buzz bomb is the only way to describe it.

The small bunch zips over us to the west, executes a tight turn over the far shore that brings them directly back in our faces.

They land quietly about 20 yards short of the decoys and began swimming an odd parade of circles and half moons, quacking as they go. Suddenly, either scared because no one is quacking back or just because they’re ducks, the whole bunch is airborne as quickly as they were down on the water.

“The next bunch is legal,” someone says and we all tighten up slightly, gripping our shotguns with one hand and the topside flap of the blind with the other.

When the next flight comes through, we’re ready. But when they come across, there’s a stirring of uneasiness as the ducks — mallards and widgeon — all do the same thing. Over our heads from behind, across the lake to the far side and then back to the center of the five-acres to land with a wet swoosh on the water.

Cerretani calls a shot on the next flight and a single duck drops at the boom of Thomas Knight’s 12 gauge. A gadwall hen. Then a mallard drake and a spectacular widgeon drake.

That’s going to be about it, though. There is no wind, none, and that makes ducks smarter by far. They aren’t fooled by decoys that don’t wiggle and dance. And there’s no movement on the water unless we throw a rock out among the decoys.

Finally, someone notices a single decoy, floating loose farther out on the water. That’s what’s attracting the ducks, and it’s too deep for anyone to reach, even with waders.

Tomorrow it will be better but today it seems there’s nothing to attract the ducks to us. They keep landing well out on the lake and then leaving after swimming around for a while.

There’s nothing we can do but lie and watch the duck show. But it’s a nice show.

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