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An Old Coot Trick

It happens just about every year.  The ducks that are around have been around for a while and they seem to have it all figured out.  They not only avoid your decoys, many disappear during shooting hours and those that stick around land on the wrong side of the pond.

American Coot aka Mud Hen
American Coot aka Mud Hen

Some call it the October Lull.  But all of us wildfowlers grumble bad words as we watch our lonely dekes bobbing in the water. We try our best to derive some entertainment from the numerous coot that have suddenly appeared on the pond and provide distraction from our lack of shooting.

The mud-hen, or American Coot, is an interesting waterbird that will nest in Nebraska, but is much more evident during migration.  The nearly all-black birds appear almost overnight, usually stick around for a few days while it’s not too cold and then simply disappear.

Yes there is a liberal coot hunting season in Nebraska that follows the same dates as the duck season.  However, my interest was piqued in them when I noticed that the few ducks that would stick around my pond during the lull could be found spending time with the mud hens.  So for fun I made a change to my spread…

Spread of Coot
Spread of Coot

Now coot decoys have been around for some time.  And hunters have been tossing a few in with their usual duck decoys forever.  But I took it further by flipping it the other way.  A dozen or more coot with a couple pairs of mallards and maybe a drake pintail or two.  That’s it.  Some old duck-chasers I met talked about successfully using old jugs painted completely black to shoot ducks, so I figured I had little to lose…I wasn’t getting shots anyway.

The first day I deployed the coot spread it worked. It worked again the second time, too.  I won’t say it created a melt-your-gun-barrel hunt, but I was getting shots at ducks that had been ignoring me while other hunters weren’t getting shots at all.  Oddly enough the real coot seemed to ignore my spread about as much, if not more, than my regular duck spread.  Which isn’t what I thought would happen and it added to the mud-hen mystique.

Even Wood Duck like the Coot Spread
Even Wood Duck like the Coot Spread

Having used my coot spread several times over the years I have noticed a couple things that improve its effectiveness.  It obviously works where ducks are already used to seeing coot.  No mud hens…no coot spread.  I tend to clump my coot dekes together more than I would my regular duck spread.  I think it makes it more noticeable for the birds and creates a focal point for the ducks to concentrate on.  Unlike ducks a clump of coot is more natural and does not seem to convey danger.  Keep in mind attracting singles and pairs to this setup is more the norm than bringing in large flocks, but it can and does happen, so be prepared.

Finally, be ready to catch some flack from your hunting buddies as you toss out the coot spread…right up until the ducks start decoying.


About Aaron Hershberger

Aaron "hershy" Hershberger is an Outdoor Education Specialist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He loves being outdoors. When not outdoors he is day-dreaming about being outdoors and/or whining that he is not outdoors. Hershy has been a Hunter Education Instructor, in two states, for nearly three decades & a Bowhunter Education Instructor for over 20 years.

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