North Dakota Duck Hunting – A journal of all things in
Prairie Pothole Country
One of the favorite spots for duck hunters at Prairie Smoke
Ranch is on our big lake, which we call Bluebill. As you might deduce, this
lake is deep, wide and favored by divers and puddlers alike. But scaup seem to
love it. It ranges in size from 40-60
acres and depth from 13-18 feet, depending on the year. It is loaded with
freshwater shrimp. Like all our lakes and wetlands, and those in the area, the
water levels are very dynamic and vary greatly from year to year. It is perhaps ½ mile across or better, again
depending on the year.
We usually have a couple blinds on the lake, sometimes as many as four. It’s no stretch to say we have harvested thousands of birds from these blinds over the last 15 years of so. Cans, redheads, bills, mallards, gaddies, pintails, blue-wing and green-wing teal, widgeon, ruddies, spoonies, buffleheads, ringnecks plus geese, mergansers and even a scoter. May have even been the rare wood-duck and goldeneye thrown in for good measure.
We were down there yesterday and needed binoculars to scan the lake and find all the birds. There were plenty, most on the opposite shore, but unseen with the naked eye. A couple of hen scaup swam 100 yards out but the other birds only gave away their presence by quacks and long-distance highballs.
With the high water in recent years, one blind has emerged as a favorite. This gem is tucked away in a back bay, off the main lake. The spread cannot be seen from most of the lake, as it is tucked in deep around a point.
While effective as is, a better set-up would be on the main point, or at least something set up on the point to gain the attention of birds working the lake. While mallards and other high flyers might see the spread regardless, it is not uncommon for a squadron of cans or redheads the hit the lake from the north, take a swoop around at the 10 foot level and then exit as quickly. We needed something to get their attention.
As so was born the big water prairie sea duck decoy. These are made simply and cheaply, two of the three requirements for homemade rigs around here. The third requirement is effectiveness. We’ve tested a few different materials and rigging methods and found those described below work best. Bear in mind that we leave these blocks out all season, so they need to be fool-proof and extremely durable. They will serve you very well for day use.
The Prairie Smoke Ranch Freshwater Sea Duck Decoy
Start with 2 ½ gallon white (not opaque) chemical jugs. One gallon white jugs will work, such as those containing antifreeze etc. but we are going for over-the-top visibility, so find some 2 ½ gallon jugs. Make sure they have either black or white caps.
Remove all labels and triple rinse to remove all chemicals. Clean the outside of any dirt, dust or residue. You will need to buy a spray can of leak seal, black in color. Feel free to buy cheap black spray paint if you wish but you will end up repainting the jugs hourly. Buy the leak seal, it should be your only expense. One can of leak seal will do many more decoys than you need. Only 3-5 are needed.
Now spray one end of the jug, covering about ¼ to 1/3 of the surface. Prop up, let dry, then spray the other end, same proportion. You are almost done. Let this dry and then unscrew the cap and fill about ¼ full with plain water for ballast. Now spray the inside of the cap and threads with leak seal and screw down tight to seal.
You now have a PSR Sea Duck decoy. Make three to five of these. These are attractors, not part of your spread, so detail is not important. String them together with poly rope, tying each through the handle with a couple of overhand knots so they won’t slip. Anchor one end with a five pound weight and leave the other end free to float with the wind. Old weight bench weights work well. Allow five to 15 feet between each jug.
We use these off the point of our Bluebill lake, some 200 yards from our actual spread. But any duck flying close enough to check them out will instantly see our set and usually make a turn in our direction. We have never had anything try to decoy to them or set down.
Standing at our boat launch area we can plainly see these blocks over a ½ mile away. The blocks are cheap, the applications are endless. Try ‘em and see.
author is a former US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Department of
Agriculture manager. In retirement he
owns and operates Prairie Smoke Ranch, located in central North Dakota, the
duck hunting hub of the northern plains. All rights reserved.