By Steve Weisman
The black plastic pond gamble – a clever secret to waterfowl success in drought conditions.
Can dry weather affect waterfowl hunting? You bet it can! If you’re a waterfowler, you know that water conditions can change drastically. For the past several years, we’ve had more than enough water, but what happens when the water dries up and many of our small ponds literally evaporate away?
Keep reading – you’re about to discover the secret to waterfowl success in drought conditions.
I live in northwest Iowa, and several years ago my favorite a four-acre CRP pond dried up. It’s a half-mile off the road – the perfect duck hideaway. However, since it is a shallow restored wetland marsh, a hot, dry summer ruins it. I faced this dilemma, and took a “far-out” gamble that worked even better than I expected.
Build It and They Will Come
The dilemma? We weren’t willing to battle the crowds on the public sloughs, but we faced a bone-dry marsh. So, we “made” some look-alike water. We used black plastic, the type used to cover silage piles, and “faked” a pond. We picked a 90’ x 90’ area in the middle of the pond and went to work. We had no large equipment, only a riding mower, weed trimmers, my four-wheeler with blade, and shovels.
Simple Steps to Making a Fake Pond
First, since the marsh had been dry for most of the summer, we had to deal with lots of tough, clumpy slough grass. Our first job was to get that clipped down. We used a mower first, and then our weed trimmers to scalp it. We raked up the grass and put it up against the standing vegetation.
Then we took the four-wheeler and blade and skimmed off the mowed/trimmed area as well as we could so it was relatively clump-free.
Next we took the sheet of heavy, black plastic and cut it to fit a 50’ x 80’ area. Certainly not huge, but large enough we hoped. We chose a totally calm day to work the plastic. In a wind, it could have been a real mess. We dug a trench (just a few inches deep) all the way around the plastic and then put the outer edges of the plastic in the trench and covered the edges with dirt.
Setting Up the Spread
Once complete, we stepped back about 50 yards and looked at the plastic water. Amazingly, it looked real even to us. Next, I took some old keel-less Carrylite decoys and placed them on the plastic. With no keel, the decoys could sit flat on the plastic.
Then we dug up a couple clumps of slough grass and placed them on the plastic. We hoped this would break up the “plastic look” and add realism.
We hunted Saturday and Sunday mornings, and each morning brought some five-gallon buckets filled with water to throw on the plastic. The water would pool just a little in the depressions. Plus, heavy dew on Saturday morning added more realism and a light Sunday morning rain shower helped even more.
Hunting the Fake Pond
Sunday was the better day when we took four mallards and two teal, but I think the overcast sky had something to do with that. In all, we had four flocks of mallards work the plastic on each day, along with different flocks of teal and the two wood ducks.
The funniest and most memorable moment had to be right at dawn on Sunday. A teal desperate to find water came zinging over, zipped right in and landed in the decoys. Was it ever surprised when it had a sliding landing on the slippery plastic!
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, and the way the drought is hitting us right now, I can see it happening again this fall.
However, I believe you need at least three things going for you.
First, you do need at least a little water in the area to keep some ducks around.
Second, you need enough hunters to keep the ducks flying around.
Third, a cloudy day with some wind helps complete the illusion.
I had seen this work on ice before, so I just had to believe that it might work here. Will it work with northern mallards? Don’t know, because later that fall we received enough rain to give us a little pot of water. Would it work day after day? Don’t know, maybe not unless new flocks are coming in. However, I do know this. It did work during that early season, and if I need to do it again this fall, I certainly will.
One caution: if you create a fake plastic water pond, make sure you reserve some time to remove it. Ducks might get faked out, but landowners and others sure won’t think there’s anything fake about a big sheet of plastic left behind.
About Steve Weisman
A retired teacher, Steve Weisman is a member of OWAA and AGLOW* and has been a freelance outdoor writer for 19 years. He writes for several publications throughout the Midwest. He enjoys sharing news about the outdoors through his own experiences and the information gained from DNR wildlife and fisheries biologists and outdoor experts. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*OWAA is Outdoor Writers Association of America.
AGLOW is Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.
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