The most exciting magnums of all are Soule's brand new "stand-ups," which are used in conjunction with oversize floating decoys. They may well revolutionize the art of coastal black-duck shooting. Soule got the idea for them two years ago on a bitter December day. "The blacks were moving pretty good," he remembers, "but the bay was full of floating ice and my tollers were taking a beating. So I pulled them up on the grass, and, the next thing I knew, I had blacks trying to get in the blind with me. They would land out in the water, of course, but not until after they had swung in close to the blind to look over those high and dry tollers. It dawned on me right then. Blacks like to get out on the shore and feed, preen or doze, especially in nasty weather. So I carved out a set of shore magnums with removable dowel legs and they worked right off. They stand out like beacons on the marsh as long as the grass is naturally low or else flattened out by killing frosts, and, although no one has tried it yet, I'm betting that they'll be deadly for the shooter with a coffin blind buried out on a sandspit, or even in corn or wheat fields where birds are feeding."
Soule makes two kinds of stand-up black decoys (he plans to turn out some mallards soon): a feeder, with neck and head stretched out, that tips over so its bill rests on the ground, and a regular that simply stands there looking relaxed. Like all his decoys, Soule's stand-ups are made of dense, buoyant cork imported from Portugal. They are sprayed with a flat, no-shine paint and touched up with the appropriate field marks—blue wing patch and olive bill—by hand. Because they must show more body bulk than floating decoys, they are made from two sections of cork cemented together. Although there is no such thing as too many decoys for coastal shooting, five feeders, two regulars and maybe a sleeper (a floating magnum that lies down on the grass), along with seven floaters set out in the water downwind of the blind, make an excellent stool for Casco Bay. The same should hold true for other tidewater areas. The blacks tend to swing into the wind, fly over the floaters and drop into the water right in front of the stand-ups—in easy shotgun range.
At 6:30 on a bitter-cold morning last season George Soule checked the wind gauge on his dining-room wall and noted with satisfaction that a storm front was moving in. He pulled on his patched waders, a long camouflage parka and a duck-billed cap to hide his face, loaded two wicker baskets of magnum blacks in his aluminum boat and set out for the lee shore of Lane's Island. By sunrise he was hunkered down in the blind admiring his tollers. "Now that's the kind of spread that will sell an educated black," he said. "Some gunners like to use a confidence decoy—usually a sagacious old herring gull—to make their spread look more realistic. I'd rather rely on these magnums and my duck call." Soule's call is a Turpin made in Louisiana, and, once one hears him chirp into it, one wonders why he needs decoys at all. Soule admits that anyone who learns how to call blacks will get a lot more action. He makes a raucous comeback call (four loud quacks of varying pitch) to get the ducks started, and then mixes it with low, muted reedy quacks and the garrulous feeding chuckle until the ducks are in range. But Soule is quick to point out that all the calling in the world won't put blacks in the pan if the decoys don't look just right to them.
"It's a strange thing about some gunners," Soule says. "A lot of them have fancy shotguns, expensive boats and motors, retrievers trained by professionals and maybe even memberships in private duck clubs. Yet in an age when ducks are getting smarter all the time, a lot of these men blanch at the idea of putting out $200 or so for a good set of big tollers. Instead they head for the marshes with a bagful of cheap, shiny plastic decoys. A lot of them even use Clorox bottles painted black or laundry bags dyed and stuffed with grass or even mounds of mud stuck out in the grass. They just can't expect the same kind of shooting.
"Anyway, it's bad enough on those bluebird days when nothing is flying but marlinspikes [mergansers]. It's worse when conditions are perfect, except that the blacks sail along a mile high without so much as a courteous glance at your tollers. At such times, we hunt partridge in the puckerbrush behind the blind, or dig a mess of soft-shell clams on the mud flats and steam them up. Or we just sit in the blind, talking to the dog and looking out at the tollers. You can't tell me a duck hunter is enjoying himself when he has to stare out at Clorox bottles, laundry bags or mud patties."