I'd often wondered how long it would take a duck to imprint. I was soon to find out. During the 1998-99 season while at the Wild Wings clubhouse near Charleston, Miss., a guest from California after supper one night told about Robo — a revolutionary, spinning wing decoy (SWD) — they were using. I was impressed.
Nevertheless, I heard nothing more that season. Then 10 days into the 60-day season of 1999-20000, I was snuggled inside a pit. Roughly, 300 yards away were Jeff Duck (his real name) and his two boys.
I was, at first, amused at the shooting they were doing, thinking it was youthful exuberances. However, the fusillade kept up until my curiosity got the best of me. Catching my eye was this spinning object in front of their pit. Overhead, mallards were power-diving, not ones or twos, but groups.
I went to my four-wheeler and paid a visit. “Oh, I just got this yesterday from the California factory. They were backlogged, but I paid them a bonus and they sent it overnight.”
I didn't return to the pit. Instead, I drove home and called the factory.
My bonus offer was unsuccessful. I called every sporting goods stores in the immediate area with no luck; in fact, most hadn't even heard of it. Searching the Internet for two hours, I found a sporting goods store in Washington State that had one left.
“FedEx it,” I replied.
The next day it arrived; the following day it was operational. It was phenomenal. Didn't need a caller. Didn't need anything but an SWD. It was effective on singles, doubles, and large groups.
As the season progressed to the last 10 days of the season, my eyes told me the veterans were becoming wary. These were not juveniles; they had all been killed, or most of them. The seasoned veterans were now floating down about 70 yards within SWDs and flaring off; not all of them, but some of them. Each day, more and more flared until it became obvious they had imprinted and figured it out.
The next season, I traveled to Manitoba for goose hunting in the mornings and duck hunting in the afternoons. You guessed it! SWDs were there for our hunting pleasure.
Back home, I hunted the St. Francis Lake area near Truman, Ark. The lake is a 5-mile stretch where the St. Francis River widens out, with the largest width being a half mile. Not all is open water, for there are cypresses interspersed.
There is both private and public hunting, but the majority is public. Blinds exist every 300 to 400 yards on each side, nearly 200 in total. Around each were 200 to 1,000 decoys, with anywhere from two to eigth SWDs.
Now imagine if you will a duck flying from the north of the river to the south. In that 5-mile stretch, a duck will see 4,000 to 20,000 decoys and 400 to 1,600 SWDs. Then multiply that times the number of blinds in Arkansas, in the Mid-South, in the Mississippi Flyway, in every Flyway.
Now after seven seasons (six in this Flyway), SWDs have decimated the juvenile crop, starting in Canada and the northern states. When the ducks get to the Southland, only the veterans are left, and they are battle weary and battle tested.
Worsening the problem is that some of these veterans are what's known as “superhens.” These superhens produce 60 percent of the fall flight. In other words, we're killing the veterans or “brood stock.” They don't make it through the season to bring back the juveniles the next year and the next. Therefore, we're killing the “goose that laid the golden egg.”
There has never been a more effective killing machine than SWDs, including live decoys!
In my next column, I will discuss the SWDs with some facts, not just anecdotal opinions.
Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to www.waterfowling.org.