I saw them coming from the 12 o'clock position. I was facing west, looking downwind as the pair of mallards winged toward my deception trap. Two dozen shell decoys were the centerpiece, and a low feeding chuckle from my walnut call rounded out my fake setup.
It began to work. They set their wings and were dropping nicely. Just when my mind was beginning to turn the sizzling breasts over the charcoal, they flared and banked sharply to the south. Then they were gone.
What had gone wrong? I was well camouflaged, sitting on a five gallon bucket among corn stalks, and had stayed perfectly still with my face down.
I quickly re-located 10 feet to the right in more cover. I pulled some extra johnsongrass and spread it evenly over the more abundant stalks. The next set of three came on in the way they were supposed to. You just can't half do this deception business.
Deception has been at the heart of hunting and fishing ever since humans began eating fish and game. Early hunters draped animal skins over their bodies to mimic animals grazing peacefully amidst game. That's not a wise play today, however, unless you relish being mistaken for game by a distant hunter with a .270.
Deception setups are numerous and varied. Decoys are one common tool. Duck decoys are perhaps the oldest in the modern era. Old decoys, meticulously hand carved from wood and painted, were first used (along with real pet mallard hens). Later, decoys were made of paper mache, then styrofoam, then modern polymers.
The newest devices are robo-ducks with fluttering wings, dipping and bobbing movements — and now devices that churn the water, making regular decoys appear to be swimming.
Turkey decoys — first hens, then immature jakes, then jakes mounting hens — who knows what's next? Goose, deer, antelope and elk decoys are also in vogue now. Varmint hunters use foam decoys of rabbits, fawns, and other helpless food morsels. Throw in a few squeals and the deception is complete — almost.
Just like in my earlier account, decoys alone aren't effective unless the hunter is concealed. You have to be invisible, or look like something other than a predator, especially a human predator. Camouflage clothing, keeping a low profile, staying in the shadows, with a good backdrop or blind — all are important if the guise is to be successful.
Turkeys are as keen-eyed as any game, but you can fool them if you are totally camouflaged and sit down backed up to a tree at least as wide as your shoulders. But, you can't be in the sun, can't move at the wrong time, and you have to be in a place turkeys want to come to.
A decoy sometimes helps, and sometimes does the reverse. A few years ago, I got a gobbler interested at 11 a.m. I quickly set up a decoy 30 yards uphill from the drain between me and the gobbler on the next ridge. I set up 30 yards further uphill.
He marched quickly down to the drain, then saw the fake hen and put on the brakes. He then proceeded to put on the most dazzling gobbling and strutting performance I have ever seen. He had his pride and he wasn't coming a step further. After several minutes, I watched helplessly from 60 yards as he indignantly walked away.
There are many, many deception devices. Calls of all kinds, mimicking the opposite sex, threatening calls mimicking the same sex, feeding calls and distress calls. Blinds, pits, elevated stands and other places to hide.
Artificial food is a popular device. The fake fodder is not effective, though, unless the presentation is realistic. It doesn't matter how nearly a fly matches the current hatch, if it doesn't land at the right place in a natural matter — well, trout are no dummies.
If they do fall for a clumsy presentation, they need to be removed from the gene pool anyway. Come to think of it, for most of us average sportsmen, our best hope is to fool a dumb trout or turkey. In fact, I truly believe I raised my family feeding them a steady fare of dumb critters!