How to Screw Up Your Duck and Goose Decoys

By author of The Duck Blog

Spread Fails Contribute to Empty Straps

Don't handicap your hunt before it starts. Set a realistic, common-sense spread that attracts birds and produces quality shots. Photo © Forrest Carpenter

You can goof up waterfowl hunts in many fashions (as I’ve pointed out frequently via painful personal experience). Sometimes, that involves overlooking seemingly tiny decoy considerations.

So, if you’re interested in blowing potentially great mornings and giving yourself headaches, use these tips to screw up your decoy spreads next season.

Fling ’Em

Everyone throws decoys, and it’s easy to see why: It saves time and lots of difficult walking in muck or boating in treacherous situations. But it also creates sloppy, unnatural spreads, with tangled blocks, decoys too close to each other, weeds or mud splattered on blocks, or, unless you’re using Texas-rigged decoys, lines draped over necks or backs.

Solution: Take a few extra minutes to set decoys how you want them. Sure, go ahead and toss some, but make sure every line clears the block and disappears into the water. Move decoys that land inches from other fakes or stick on their sides in mud or weeds. And then give your spread a critical glance before settling into the blind. Better to fix problems before the action starts.

Get ’Em Too Close

No one wants to set decoys too far away, as it’s pointless to attract birds out of effective range. Yet most of us err on the opposite end of the spectrum, placing our blocks too close to our boat, blind or hide (with the exception of field hunting or open-water spreads, when hunters often hide among the decoys and use them as extra concealment).

Ideally, you should have decoys close enough to produce good shots yet spread out sufficiently for maximum visibility and realism. Look at real ducks. Unless a gale-force wind moves them to shelter along lee shorelines, they typically congregate, feed and loaf in long, loose groups that extend out considerably from shorelines. Try to mimic that. And remember, your decoys always look farther away in the dark.

Too Structured

As a diver guy, I love long lines or, with individually rigged blocks, J-hooks. Trouble is, when the wind dies and the water resembles glass, those spreads look like … well, like long lines and J-hooks. And trust me, ducks know.

Always try to make your spread seem natural and relaxed. Yes, make a J or V for divers. Just don’t structure it so rigidly that it looks like every other J or V rig on the water. Throw a couple of birds in the kill hole, imitating fresh arrivals. Put a few puddlers toward shore on the upwind side. String a few birds out farther in a loose tail. Make the rig look like a natural congregation of content, happy ducks. The same basic theory holds for puddlers and geese. Place realism over your preconceived ideas of approach lanes and kill holes.

Don’t Consider the Situation

You don’t want to hunt big-water bluebills with a shoreline spread of eight decoys. Conversely, it makes little sense to pack 200 super-magnum blocks into a relatively small opening-day mallard pothole (trust me). Always consider the situation before tossing out your spread.

On Pool 9 of the Mississippi River, where canvasbacks raft by the tens of thousands, that means a large, visible spread with as many decoys as you can tote. In a tiny creek backwater that usually holds a dozen woodies, you’re much better off with a handful of fakes. Always consider realism in specific situations.

Oh, and that encompasses this scenario, too. Ever notice the stark similarity of most spreads on pressured lakes or rivers? Usually, hunters fall into the trap of using the same number and species of decoys set up in similar fashion. Ducks catch on, so be different. Use a spread with mostly coot decoys. Or toss out a mere half-dozen blocks a secluded hole or backwater. Basically, avoid setting out the same stale spread everyone else is using.

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