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Texas Sportsman
East Texas Big-Water Ducks

Being courteous is mandatory for waterfowlers hunting the public lakes of East Texas. If you have a rude group move in, don't confront them; it's usually best to just pick up and leave. If you get their boat numbers, you can report the incident to the local game warden.

Pot-licking can always be a problem on public hunting lakes. It's not unusual for a group of hunters to move in and set up where you recently had a profitable hunt -- not a very respectable thing to do, but part of the deal when you're on public water.

"That's happened to us on more than one occasion," said Copeland. "Most of the time we set up to hunt later in the morning, or even in the afternoon. That's a tactic that has really helped us avoid other hunters. At times you can get some good flights of birds in early. But most of the time you can get some excellent shooting in after most of the other hunters have packed up and headed on down the road."

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I remember one particular day on which Copeland, Rowe and I were launching the boat. Three groups of hunters were pulling their rigs out of the water.

"How's the hunting?" I asked.

"Very slow," said one guy. "Had a pair of gadwalls go by, a few coots and way too many water turkeys. That was about it."

One thing that's sure to move birds around on a big lake is shooting pressure. And that can be a problem on some of the more popular East Texas duck-hunting lakes.

We left the dock and headed to the same area those guys had been hunting. By 9:30 we were set up with mallards coming in to the decoys. It was a spectacular hunt, and nobody knew what the drill was. That particular location, in a bunch of willows off an extended point, provided us with some of the best hunts of our lives.

Detailed camouflaging is often overlooked by hunters as they set up on big public lakes. I've seen guys hunting from a flat-bottomed boat that's been camouflaged with a can of paint. The trick is to brush up your boat. Always carry along sheets of camouflaged netting; burlap is very good. I like to carry along a small saw for cutting limbs that can be placed around the boat. Vegetation like hydrilla can be draped over the limbs, along with some of the camo material. The most important thing is to rig the camo and brush so that it gives you some sort of overhead cover. Ducks that can clearly see inside your blind will flare.

At times, you won't even need a blind. If at all possible, get out of the boat and lean up against a tree. When I was a kid, we used fishermen's innertubes for blinds. We'd sit in them and drape vegetation over the canvas cover. That was deadly. We also used tree stands, just like deer hunters. Ducks don't expect to see hunters in elevated tree stands.

Decoys are always important, but large spreads aren't always required for a good hunt. If you'll be hunting in an area that's pretty tight, like a cove or slough, you might do best by putting out three of four small groups of decoys. Conversely, if you'll be hunting on a wide-open body of water, seven to 10 dozen decoys can often be the best option.

Copeland and Rowe always carry along a dozen magnum-sized mallards and pintails. "I like the bigger decoys because they stand out more," said Copeland. "The magnum-sized drake pintails really stand out. We'll set about six of them in front of the spread. If you've got a little bit of wind to move them around, they are very effective."

One important thing to remember is to rig your decoys with enough line and weight to keep them in place. And here's another tip: When putting out decoys and picking them up, do it as a team. Have one guy at the helm, one on the bag and another handling the decoys.

Successfully calling ducks can be a tricky deal on public water. At times you'll really need to cut loose to bring 'em in. At other times, very little calling is best. If you're back in a cove or slough, aggressive calling is often the way to let ducks know where you are. However, if you're set up out on a flat where your spread is easily seen, you might want to tone down your calling. In most situations, you'll do best by getting their attention with a hail call. Once the birds are heading your way, a few subtle quacks along with a feeding chuckle will often set 'em down in the decoys.

Regardless of what lake you hunt, don't forget to play it safe. Don't take the risk of crossing rough open water in a small boat. And always wear a life jacket.

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