Ghillie Suits: Hide in plain sight
By M.D. Johnson
It’s the bane of duck hunters everywhere. Plenty of birds; nowhere to hide. Water too shallow for a boat, too deep for a layout blind, and just enough standing vegetation for Ichabod Crane to hide behind — if, that is, he went on the Atkins diet and stood sideways. Capable of concealing a meadow mouse? Yes. Thick enough to hide the human form? No way.
But there are muskrat houses scattered here and there. And a small clump of thin, finger-thick willows. So while your fellow ’fowlers are keeping their distance and creeping through binoculars, you slip that raffia grass ghillie suit poncho over your shoulders and put yourself right into the middle of things. Literally. Here’s how it’s done.
Step 1: Get yourself a ghillie suit
Two options exist: Make your own suit which, while a fine DIY project, can be somewhat labor-intensive, or purchase one all ready to go.
For those going the DIY route, you’ll start with the materials. It is possible to obtain raffia grass — the basic foundation of most ghillie suits — in bulk from such places as Mack’s Prairie Wings. From there, you’d stitch it onto a lightweight, neutral-colored jacket; say, tan or brown.
Buying an assembled suit is undeniably much easier. Pant and jacket combos are available, but a poncho like the two-piece ghillie parka from Red Rock Outdoor Gear is all you’ll really need when hunting shallow to mid-depth marshes.
Step 2: Prep your ghillie for the hunt
Assuming your ghillie matches at least some of the predominant colors in your waterfowling environment — single-color and multi-color ponchos are available — the only thing to do prior to the hunt is soften the new shine a bit. Fortunately, the best product for doing this is also the cheapest and most abundant: mud.
Fill a 5-gallon bucket halfway with garden dirt, and dampen with water to a pancake batter consistency. Lay the ghillie flat and, using an old broom, brush mud onto the raffia. Let dry, flip the poncho over and repeat. Once the suit is fully dry, shake it roughly to get rid of the excess.
Step 3: Consider what goes underneath
For the hunt, I’d suggest carrying a lightweight, comfortable pack that can be worn out of the way. Rig’Em Right’s neoprene hand warmer gear belt puts shotshells, calls, snacks and the waterfowler’s myriad of trinkets at waist level. Convenient without being cumbersome.
Binoculars are handy and can be worn on a chest-style harness, also out of the way. Shotgun slings make for free hands, too. A small swatch of camouflage burlap or netting might be useful for hiding anything the ghillie suit doesn’t.
Step 4: Scout out your spot
If the targets are puddlers in shallow water with marginal native vegetation, willows or other cover, set as close as possible to what exists. If no cover exists, scout the birds, letting them tell you where to place your hide.
A 5-gallon bucket, with lid, doubles as a seat and dry storage for extra gear; otherwise, a lightweight aluminum folding chair or stool works well. Your illusionary goal is to become an unassuming muskrat house (hut), so set decoys randomly yet close (20 yards max) to 360 degrees around your position, with a small landing hole on the downwind side and 3-4 blocks at your feet and sides.
Shooting enters an entirely new realm while wearing the ghillie; some pre-hunt clay targets, while fully draped and seated, can help you prepare for the inevitable departure from the norm.