You wanting to know about decoy layouts (V, J-hook, etc.), or what kinds of blocks we're using?
I use mallards and sprig blocks for ducks, and usually set them out fairly randomly. I do like to set the sprig out in "family" clusters of three or four, and the mallards go in pairs along the edges of the grass.
I have tried lots of the textbook spreads, and found that except for a few basic tricks, they don't make a lot of difference. The one common thing that always does make a difference is to leave a "landing strip" or two for the birds. This especially works magic on singles and doubles, and guides them right to me.
During late season I only use a handful of duck decoys, and try to hunt potholes. I guess if I had to hunt big water I'd stick to big spreads. In a big spread, I don't think it matters too much if you mix birds. If you ever see the birds in a feeding area without pressure, they eventually mix and mingle to some degree. Only geese seem to keep mostly to themselves, but I've seen mallards and teal mix with them sometimes too.
It's all about experimenting, and I still have a lot of years to hunt before I think I've figured it all out.
I pair most of my dekes but beyond that I toss pintails towards thw open water, mallards towards the sheltered water, widg, gads and teal in-between. I always put a "lonesome" hen near the blind along with assorted confidence dekes.
Big water still requires big spreads, but towards the end of the season I put the dekes upwind of me so I can catch the birds at the bottom end of the spread before they flare. Think of your decoys as "funnelers" of birds, give flaring birds an obvious escape slot like an open channel between your decoys and a tule bank and they'll run that gauntlet as they peal off your spread.
This time of year, nearly everything is decoy shy... especially if things aren't absolutely perfect.
I was watching yesterday as the birds would turn to look at my "neighbor's" moto-duck, then flare while still 100 yards out. Unfortunately, they didn't flare to my decoys either. The birds learn quick, especially in some of these war zones we call refuges.
Like Jay said, if you give 'em a little track to run out on, and guide them by your guns, that's about the best thing you can do.
Other than that, make sure everything is completely hidden and natural looking, including yourself.
Experiment...don't set them out and then watch birds flare and not change the spread. I have doen that too many times and paid the price. Like fishing...if it isn't working where you are, change bait or location...or in this case, change the setup.
Last week I hunted a blind site with NO decoys and got a bird to work right over me with a whistle. I then placed 4 widgeon, 4 teal and 3 pintail decoys out in a fairly large body of water. I had them in individual groups and made sure they were in water that moved (even though it was slightly moving by the light breeze).
It worked for us and we missed several opportunities and ended with some birds. This time of year, I am going lighter on the number of dekes I put out...regardless of the size of the pond. I try to make it look like there are a few small groups that decided to stop by.
And, i have them set up as far from my blind as possible.
I mix my species at random, other than my Pintail. My Pintail, I place 6 super mags and put them off by themselves. All others are placed in small groups randomly. This time of year I am sitting 50 yards downwind of my spread as that is where the birds seem to want to land... May not be perfect, but I hunt highly pressured birds and am still getting a fair number.
I have seen spreads as small as four decoys work and have seen three guys put out 15 dozen decoys on Sacramento Free Roam and be the only spread the birds would come to.
Camo, talking, and movement seem to be the biggest factors for me. The area I am hunting has a LOT of birds, but any sound or sight they do not like will flare them instantly.
I use 5 Sprig and about 20 mallards. Depending on the situation, I often set a VERY relaxed spread. I may set my 20 mallards over a 100 yard area....50 yards on any side of my blind. I'll set a pair here, and a group of five there, trying to get the mallards into cozy spots. The sprig I set in open water usually a bit away from me. Always, always, always leave a nice landing area. As noted before, the birds this time of year are decoy shy. You can use this to your advantage by setting decoys a bit away from you where the birds will channel around them and over your blind.
As Duck Fan says dont watch them flair and dont do anything,always be willing to change things around.Much easier with a smaller spread but even with a large spread move things around.Later in the season I tend to cut back on the # of dekes also.
If you watch late season birds they just suck into big rafts of mixed waterfowl. This is true especially on refuges where the birds have patterned the blinds and established daily rafting areas in open water.
While I totally agree that big spreads flare late season ducks on windless days, I've also seen big water rafts of decoys do really well during the late season when there's enough wind to bounce the blocks around.
I hunted over 7 dozen decoys on the closer Saturday at Sac last year and pulled limit. The year before that on the closing Sunday I pulled limit over 5 dozen decoys. And the year before that, I shot over a raft of 5 dozen dekes at Delevan in January and should have pulled an easy limit but my shooting was way off.
I never use more than a dozen decoys. Frequently I only use seven super mag G&H mallard dekes. I put three pairs in close proximity, and one lonesome hen way off to the side. It's amazing how many lonely drakes come to pay the suzie a visit and get a big surprise.
I've been hunting a Type C area that has almost no pressure. There are about five holes total, and every day the ducks starting piling up in one of the holes and then it gets tough for me. Luckily, a few dumb rogues buck the system and decide to hang out with my dekes.
Anyway, these ponds will be filled with ducks, 90% mallards and the rest widgeon, and the birds will still work the hole for several passes before committing. If they're that leary of real ducks, ducks that are swimming around, squaking and generally raising heck, it makes you wonder why we get any at all.
We be "Ricer's" and use approx. 180 decoys (mallard & sprig mixed) somewhat divided and strung out on either side of the blind, no closer that 15 yds. to the check, no more than 30 yds. out and 60 yds. in length.
We leave plenty of six feet or so landing zones in the mix.
IMHO, movement is the culprit in most "flare offs" when the birds are attempting to work and what ever you do, don't look up at the birds when they're working. Your face shines like a beacon, especially if you wear eye glasses of any type. I wear a camo mask which helps somewhat.
I've traveled north on Hwy 680 past the Tule Bell Club and could see faces in some of the blinds from the freeway.
As far as "big spread" vs "small spread" toward the end of the season - I've seen both effective. Maybe it depend on the pressure the birds have seen in a particular area. Some seasons I've hunted over a 1/2 dozen decoys on the last day of the season and had to chase the birds away but also had the same thing happen with the original spread in other seasons.
If we could just get into that duck's computer.........