Understanding the types of duck blinds and the importance of effective concealment will create better opportunities for hunting waterfowl
Making sense of duck blinds—the various types, their proper applications, and ultimately deciding which blind is right for you—can seem overwhelming. With so many commercial blind options on the market and so many tried-and-true methods employed by duck hunters for generations, choosing your hide might feel like an intimidating hurdle to cross when getting into duck hunting.
Successful ducks hunts are the name of the game for any waterfowler setting out into the morning darkness or in pursuit of an afternoon duck flight. No matter if you are grinding it out on a pack-in, public marsh hunt; cozied up in a permanent, private blind; laying out in a feed field; or even hidden in plain sight in a duck boat. . . your ability to hide from ducks is arguably one of the most critical factors in a successful hunt.
How and why to hide from ducks
Starting in late summer and early fall, ducks are hunted from their nesting grounds in the northern reaches of North America all the way to their resting grounds along the southern coast, and to some extent starting on their way back north again in very early spring. This routine repeats season after season.
Wild ducks learn quickly to be wary and to carefully examine their surroundings anytime they attempt to land. As hunters, we carefully consider our choices of duck decoys, waders, shotgun, non-toxic ammunition, duck calls, and probably even the coffee in our Thermos, but without a good hide there is little chance of bringing ducks home at the end of the day.
The basics of hiding from ducks
Concealing yourself from passing ducks is conceptually simple but often complicated in practice. In the simplest terms, duck hunters should work to avoid motion in the blind when ducks are nearby; a direct glare from the sun reflecting off of you or your gear is a sure giveaway. Do your best to stay in the shadows and break up your outline, as viewed from around you as well as from overhead.
Hiding from ducks starts to get complicated when real world situations come into play. Try hiding along a flat mud bank or in flooded vegetation only two feet high. Where do you hide your duck dog from passing waterfowl eyes? Can you conceal yourself while still maintaining your ability to comfortably shoot from the blind? Is it really possible to hide in plain sight?
A number of blinds and blind types have been developed over the years to help duck hunters successfully stay hidden from ducks. Some blinds are simple and easy to put together yourself, while others are large and elaborate. All of these duck blinds should serve a simple, primary purpose: hiding from the ducks while offering the hunter a fair shot.
Types of duck blinds
When it comes to choosing a blind, it’s important to understand the main types and the basic pros and cons associated with each style.
Tips for constructing a natural duck blind
Hunting and hiding from ducks doesn’t require an elaborate, manufactured duck blind or a large investment. With a few tools and a little elbow grease, you can put together a natural duck blind that will allow you to get birds in close.
Pack a small pair of pruning shears, a packable folding limb saw, some nylon tie wraps, a small spool of wire, and some pliers in your blind bag to create a simple hiding spot and increase your effectiveness as a duck hunter. Many a duck has been taken by hunters hiding behind driftwood stuck in the mud and brushed in with marsh weeds and grass.
Look for a spot with the wind at your back and some sort of cover over your head. The limbs of a willow, tall cattails, or simply a vertical change in vegetation can work to obscure your silhouette from above.
Use sticks, dead limbs, or driftwood to build a sort of makeshift blind frame. Fasten natural materials together with nylon ties, wire, or decoy cord, and then add lots of natural brush. If you think you’ve got plenty of grass and weeds, then work at it for ten more minutes.
Get down to bring your silhouette low to the ground. Sitting on a bucket, a plastic milk crate, or a marsh seat is fine if the surrounding vegetation is tall enough to hide you—oftentimes, it’s not. Using a small shovel to dig a trench for your feet and legs is a great way to get low. If appropriate, digging a hole wide enough for your boots and about 20” deep will allow you to sit comfortably at ground level, making it that much easier for you to hide from the waist up.
Packing in a wire hog or cattle panel is a cheap and easy way to speed up the construction of your makeshift, natural duck blind. Bend the wire to form a short wall in front of you, shove it into the mud, and weave natural vegetation throughout. If your wire panel is new and shiny, hit it with some flat brown or gray paint to take the shine off. A coating of rust on the panel will blend in perfectly in most situations.
Understanding and using layout blinds
Hiding from ducks along short grass pond edges, in crop fields, and along irrigation sloughs can be challenging. Blending into short, monoculture vegetation or harvested crop stubble can seem like trying to hide yourself in a barren desert. This is where layout blinds really shine!
Look for a layout blind with plenty of room for you and your gear, but not so big that it’s hard to blend in with the surroundings. The idea is to conceal yourself while laying back, then give you ample room to sit up and take a couple of shots at approaching waterfowl.
Blinds with a lower profile will cast less of a shadow on sunny days and are much easier to disguise along waterway edges, flooded field terraces, and in low-lying areas.
Be sure to mud your blind with a slimy mixture of good ole dirt and water. Give the entire outside of your blind, camo and all, a healthy dose of mud at about the consistency of pudding. Use a brush, broom, or mop to make quick work of the job. Let the mud dry to knock down any shine or sheen.
Finally, grass your blind. There are many brands and types of grass on the market including sheets, clumps, and rolls. You can use natural grasses from pastures and landscaping, but be careful about mold and the risks of transferring noxious weed seeds. Cover your layout blind with plenty of grass, then go over it again, and then again, adding grass to soften corners, blend in edges, and hide the layout blind doors. When it comes down to game time, layout blinds work the best when they totally blend into their surroundings.
Consider an A-frame duck blind
A-frame style blinds are fairly new to the duck hunting scene and are gaining in popularity year after year. An A-frame duck blind includes some sort of snap-together tubing frame in the shape of a letter “A” on both ends. Horizontal crossbar framing along the front and back of the blind, generally six to ten feet long, make up the long sides of the blind. Fabric is stretched across the front and back of the frame to make a long, narrow blind that is open at the top.
Hiding in plain sight is the name of the game when it comes to A-frame blinds. While tucking them up along a brushy fence line, next to a round bale, or in front of an undercut waterline bank is good practice, the blind is also designed to be out in the open.
The same mud bath and grassing treatment you gave to your layout blind is appropriate for an A-frame blind as well. Take the shine off the fabric, blend in the edges, and soften the corners with grass and vegetation.
A-frames are perfect for hunting with two or three friends, or for hunting with a dog. Heck, you can even run a small space heater in an A-frame blind on those frigid, late-season hunts. Shooting from an A-frame may be easier for hunters who aren’t used to shooting from a layout position, but be aware that youth hunters may not be tall enough to shoot out the top of the blind.
The largest drawbacks to using an A-frame blind is their pack-in size and the time it takes to put them together. If you’re able to drive in close to your hunting spot, then an A-frame may be just the ticket. Be sure to give yourself that extra 30 minutes before shooting light to get it all assembled correctly.
The role of permanent duck blinds
It’s important to consider that all the duck blinds we’ve discussed up until now are considered temporary blinds. Generally speaking, public marshes, lakes, rivers, and fields do not allow the construction of permanent blinds or structures.
Permanent duck blinds hold a deep and long tradition for generations of waterfowlers and, in many circumstances, they seem to hold a certain sort of magic. An invitation to a friend’s private duck blind or the all-clear to build one for yourself on your own property or with permission from a landowner can be a golden opportunity.
Permanent duck blinds can be made from all sorts of materials including wood, steel, fiberglass, and concrete, just to name a few. Some state wildlife areas even offer permanent blinds on a variety of access levels including lottery drawings or first come / first serve.
A permanent duck blind can be something as simple as a pipe frame with chicken wire attached and grass woven in, to an extravagant building with sliding shooting doors, swivel-style shooting seats, and a kitchen for cooking breakfast! I have even hunted as a guest from a permanent blind where we had pizza delivered!
For many duck hunters, the idea of a permanent duck blind conjures up nostalgic ideas of a weathered wooden blind tucked along a shallow lake marsh, a good dog at your feet, coffee brewing in the back, and mallards working overhead. An image like something Norman Rockwell would have painted for the Saturday Evening Post is one most duck hunters can appreciate.
The duck blind is a captivating place where memories are made and stories are shared. We gather with friends both two-legged and four to hunt ducks, to watch the sun rise, and to sip hot coffee on cool mornings. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or brand new to the duck marsh, the need to be concealed is a basic necessity of the hunt. I hope that your hide is good this season, that the ducks like your spread, and I hope to see you out there!
Raised on the prairie lands of Kansas, Rob McDonald is an outdoor writer, blogger, and photographer who finds his home on the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills. November and December sunrises often find Rob, shotgun in hand, wearing leather off of a pair of hunting boots behind a hunting Labrador in pursuit of bobwhite quail, cackling rooster pheasants, and prairie chickens.