Brushed duck blind

The use of oak branches, along with willows and grasses, provides ample concealment for duck hunters.

QUINCY -- Clint Curtis hopped out of the passenger side of Corey McFarland's Ford pickup, climbed into the back of a john boat resting on the attached trailer and watched the water around him rise as McFarland backed the trailer into the Mississippi River.

Curtis fired up the motor, spun the boat backward and waved McFarland off, signaling he was clear of the trailer and to go park the truck while he waits.

Moments later, McFarland jogged down the dock and quizzically looked at the boat before asking an understandable question.

"Where in the heck am I supposed to sit?" he said.

Curtis laughed and pointed to the front of the boat.

"Right there," he said. "Right on top."

McFarland grumbled.

"Just move those around so you can sit," Curtis said. "I'll go slow, but we need all of this."

The day before this excursion, Curtis loaded down the boat with oak limbs, willows and some other natural grasses they could use to brush their duck blind. He admittedly got carried away with how much brush he gathered, but too many trips from the dock to the duck blind would be costly.

So even though he covered the benches in his boat with so much brush his box of gear was hidden underneath, he figured they could manage the relatively short distance they'd have to travel. He never really gave much consideration to where McFarland would sit or how comfortable he might be.

"I was going to tell Corey the brush was more important than him, but I need his help to get this done," Curtis said. "So I helped him make a seat. We didn't have time to waste. We had work to do."

The Illinois duck hunting season opens October 24 in the Central Zone, giving hunters less than two weeks to be prepared for opening day. Although there hasn't been cold enough weather to the north to push birds down the Mississippi Flyway, there are enough local ducks for hunters to pursue to make early season hunting worthwhile.

That's only if you're prepared.

And that means picking and placing the right brush.

Many hunters look for brush that blends well into the environment surrounding their blind. If they are on a lake or a pothole where cattails are prevalent, it makes sense to stuff cattails into the front and sides of the blind. If you're in a heavily wooded area, you want more leafy limbs and less grass.

No matter where you hunt, oak limbs provide the best cover according to a majority of hunters.

Professional waterfowl guide Steve McCadams, who works with Ducks Unlimited, said he's used oak limbs for 40 years and won't ever change.

"Oak limbs are hard to beat for camouflage that lasts all season and blends in with most backgrounds, even when no trees are nearby," McCadams told DU personnel.

Because of the prevalence of oak trees in this area, using oak makes complete sense. The right kind of oak is essential, too. A majority of hunters prefer to cut pin oak branches than a traditional oak limb.

"Size is one reason," said Ron Wyrick, who hunts in Mississippi River Pool 23. "The smaller circumference of the branches makes it easier to stick and tuck them into whatever you're using to hold your brush in place. If you start sawing big branches off oak trees, you're not going to be able to stuff them in there with other grasses and nothing is going to look natural.

"Everything has to look natural. Everything. You need to be concealed, but you you need it be look natural, too. Ducks can be fooled, but they can be smart, too. They will fly right on by from high above if nothing looks right."

It's exactly what Curtis was thinking when he loaded down his boat.

"I want complete cover," he said. "I want to be able to peer through a shooting window that I can see out and nothing can see in. My friends tell me I go overboard with the brush, but I'm going to blend in. We might be on the river, but there are big old trees behind us on the island. If I use oak limbs and branches, it's going to look like we're part of the background, not waiting to ambush anything."

And he'll so at the cost of his hunting partner's comfort. At least for one day.

"It's all good in the end," McFarland said. "The oak limbs will make the blind look good and hunt good, and for me having to sit on top of them this time, Clint will be responsible for breakfast in the blind. So in a way, everybody wins in the end."

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