1. Location, location, location. Plan to set up your rig where the ducks will, or should be. Large expanses of open water near feeding, staging, or resting grounds are preferred. If not, be in the preferred flight path.
2. Set the boat out first. This is usually done the safest from a tender boat. The first step is to position the tender to the upwind side of where you want the layout to be. Put the layout on the deck or rails of the tender boat for easy access to the water. Put the combing in the maximum upright position, and if setting in the dark put a light in the layout. I use a battery powered Coleman fluorescent double bulb lantern for this. Then you will be able to see the layout when completing the next steps. The first process will be to determine your water depth. Whatever the depth, triple the length of the upwind anchor rope (i.e. if the water is 15', you need 45' of anchor line). Use a “Danforth” type anchor for the upwind anchor thru the fairlead and attached to the cleat. Drop the anchor on the leeward side of the tender and drift back with the wind. You will feel the anchor set. Then ease the layout into the water. Drift a few more feet and set the rear anchor. This needs to be a mushroom type and the anchor line will be double the water depth. This anchor also goes thru the fairlead and attached to the cleat.
3. Set your decoys. I prefer motherlines. Now that you can see the layout with the aid of the light from the cockpit, you can judge your distances. I start on the upwind side and set as I drift. Decoy placement is a matter of personal choice. One rule to follow is that if you shoot right handed, set accordingly. The decoys need to be placed so that the ducks will be trying to land in front or to the left side of the rig. Decoys need to be placed according to where the rig is now positioned. Be sure to leave an access route for the tender to come up alongside and safely change hunters without running over anchor lines or decoy lines.
4. Once all the decoys are placed to your liking, it's time to climb aboard. I use a gray coverall over my hunting clothes as camo. They are cheap from the surplus stores, at around $12. I slit the legs up to the crotch and put Velcro on the seam. It makes it easy to put on over heavy clothes and waders. I also use a gray ski mask to hide my face, and rag wool fingerless gloves. Wearing waders is a matter of choice; however since I wear neoprene it is not too bulky and gives added warmth and dryness. Position the tender boat up alongside the layout. I use a boat pole to get the final approach lined up correctly. You grab the layout with the pole so you don't run into it. Hunter 1 gets into the boat by stepping into it gently and holding the tender boat rails. Then kneel to center your gravity. Transfer UNLOADED guns and gear to the hunter. The hunter then pushes the tender away and commences to wiggle down into position.
5. At this point the tender either goes and sets up as a boat blind hunting position, or just anchors. I like to go at least 500 yards, and sometimes as far as 2 miles away. We keep in contact with Motorola two-way radios that have a 2-mile range, or the use of a handheld marine radio set. We get more range on open water. Test the radios before you lose sight of the layout. The hunter will then arrange his gear as to best fit his comfort. I have 3 shelves on either side of my layout. Shells go in one, radio in another, thermos in third, sponge in another. The light from earlier is stowed once legal starts. Keep the light on the entire time you are out before sunrise so other boats will see you. You are very vulnerable in the dark. The next step is to wiggle down in position. Wiggle is a choice word because the bulkhead is very low. Forget about pointing your toes upward. It's heel to heel with no extra room. Lower the combing to the desired height depending upon the wave action. The most desirable position is to have only your eyes above the deck. Imagine laying flat on your back in bed and lifting your head enough to see your toes without straining. That is the position you want to achieve with the backrest. Since I don't use blankets to cover-up, I lay my shotgun with the butt under my right armpit and the barrel resting on the front combing.
6. You are now ready to shoot. You can scan the sky or see the wing dippers from this vantage point. The wind will be at your back. The ducks should work on your left side. Divers will come by, turn and land against the wind if all goes well. This presents a left to right shot, and if you miss, they usually will turn to go with the wind giving a second opportunity.
7. When you do connect, call the tender to pick up the ducks once they clear the decoys. I use a fishing net for easy retrieval. Then you can switch. Follow the same process as with hunter 1. Make sure the guns are unloaded for this.
8. When the hunting is done, you reverse the process. Pick up the hunter in the layout and his gear. The last gunner should pull the downwind anchor and set it into the layout. Pick up the decoys. Set the layout onto the tender and pull the remaining anchor out. This usually requires motoring upwind to get it to unset.
Now for some tips:
1. I wear waders, period. Gives you a thermal break from the bottom of the boat and cold. It also will help keep you dry if the wind picks up a bit and you take on some water.
2. Make sure you can rotate your torso from the waist to shoot. This may mean less upper body clothing, or untucking your shirt. You can get by with less clothing because you will be protected from the wind in the layout.
3. Keep the combing as low as possible to reduce your profile. Layouts are made to be very low to the water. They are designed to have the waves actually keep the deck wet. The combing is there to prevent the water from coming into the cockpit.
4. Keep a sponge inside the layout. I use a large car washing type one. If you do get water in, lean to the side and absorb it with the sponge. Wring it out over the side.
5. Some guys use foam mats under their bodies similar to the ones used for sleeping bags. I don't for the reason that it limits my mobility.
6. Don't move around if you can prevent it. Scan with your eyes. Sit up only to shoot.
7. Whenever you change gunners to the layout, or need to relieve yourself, put the combing up to the maximum height to prevent taking on water. Hypothermia is the number one killer of duck hunters. Please play safe, and keep dry.
Well I hope this helps those of you that are just starting out, and to answer any questions for those of you curious. If there is anything I left out, I apologize. If you need further info, just drop me a note and I'll be glad to offer anything I can.
Best of luck,