Love them or hate them, spinning-wing fakes are here to stay
If you’ve duck hunted much the past 20 years, you likely have an opinion about spinning-wing decoys.
Some hunters think spinners are a frivolous gimmick, but others believe they're the best thing since the autoloading shotgun. You might also consider spinners to be the devil incarnate or a harmless contrivance. Some states have banned spinning-wing decoys in certain situations, apparently believing they give hunters who use them an unfair advantage. Many other states have at least discussed the idea.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours hunting with and without spinning-wing decoys, and my opinion of them has evolved through the years. I first used one in Fall 2000 at a pressured east-central Wisconsin marsh, and I killed more mallards and pintails in limited hunting than I had during the previous three years combined. Ducks saw the motion from afar, set their wings and glided in. It was a poor morning when I didn’t fill up, and the action lasted from late September through November.
The next year, everyone in the marsh had a spinning-wing decoy or two, and the spinners still worked on early-season ducks. But about midway through the campaign, in late October, the effectiveness of spinners waned. Birds saw the motion and even set their wings, but often circled at a distance and wouldn't finish. And during Fall 2002, success with the spinner became increasingly spotty. I noticed a difference on a couple of big-water mallard hunts but saw no advantage while hunting that pressured Wisconsin marsh. I concluded, of course, that ducks had caught on to the trick.
However, during subsequent seasons, I’ve seen spinners work well in some situations. It seems they attract more ducks early in the season, when there’s a high percentage of young or otherwise uneducated birds in the population. Perhaps not coincidentally, some studies have noted that success with spinners decreased as the season progressed.
Spinning-wing decoys seem to pay benefits when hunting mallards on big water or, especially, in fields. In fact, I think spinners are crucial to field-hunting success, though you want to use models with remote-controlled on-off switches, which let you stop the spinning wings as ducks get close. That seems to help birds finish better.
Diving ducks are often attracted to motion of any kind, so spinners work for them, too. However, it can be tricky to use motion decoys in many diver hunting situations, especially open water. You can buy floats for spinning-wing divers, but they often tip in the waves or fall over if you bump them with a boat or other decoys.
Spinners do nothing for geese. In fact, they seem to spook honkers. Also, spinning-wing decoys don’t seem to make much difference in crowded situations, probably because most hunters in overpressured marshes run two or three of them.
Bottom line? I think the shock-and-awe days of spinners are long gone, but they remain useful tools. Sixteen years ago, you could probably plop down anywhere in a marsh, throw out a spinner and probably outshoot every conventional spread in the area. If you try that nowadays, you’re in trouble. Conversely, as mentioned, I’ll never field-hunt ducks without a spinner or two. And actually, when the late-season mallard flight comes through, a few spinners in a field might be all you need for a great shoot.
That leads back to a question posed years ago: Do spinners represent an unfair advantage, and if so, should they be banned? Probably not. Obviously, I felt OK using one, and I’ll continue using them if situations dictate. Nowadays, that might be six or seven hunts per year. Yeah, I felt somewhat guilty in 2000, after killing scores of mallards on the public marsh — but not bad enough to stop. If someone showed me statistics that indicated hunters using spinners had killed substantially more ducks than folks who didn't use them during a five- to 10-year period, I’d probably change my mind. But I haven’t seen that.
So to me, spinners remain another tool. If you ban them, you might as well ban Gore-Tex, mud motors, Hevi-Shot, online maps and every other gadget that makes duck hunting a little better or more comfortable.
Use them or curse them, spinners are here to stay. And I doubt they’ll make the fall flight crash. If you’re worried about that, focus instead on our declining prairie habitat. That crisis will affect every waterfowler, whether they use spinners or loathe them.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.