Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

10 Ways To Improve Your Decoy Spread

Sure, you might decoy a duck or two with any old spread, but many migrators are too smart for dated tactics.

1. Set Up Where the Birds Want to Be
If you’re not where the birds want to be, you’re fighting an uphill battle, and likely a losing one. Simply put, you can have the biggest spread of the most realistic decoys ever assembled, but if you’re 300 yards off the “X,” as waterfowlers like to call the exact spot where ducks or geese want to be, you’re likely out of the game. The “X” is almost always the same pothole or field the waterfowl poured into the previous day. That’s why scouting is critical to decoying success. Want to improve your decoys’ drawing power exponentially? Hop in your truck and start looking. And don’t leave your binocular at home.

2. Buy Quality Decoys 
(Avoid the Cookie-Cutter Look)
Having just reviewed the 2009 lineup of new decoys, I can honestly say there’s no excuse not to be hunting over a great-looking spread. Still, I suppose you could screw it up by being a penny-pincher and shopping at garage sales … or by trying to buy the most decoys with your allotted cash vs. a few of the better ones … or by not looking at what’s available before shelling out the cash.

3. Maintain Your Drawing Power
If you’re not in the market for new decoys, take care of your old ones. Mud and sun will rob them of contrast, which in turn hampers visibility. Before you start hunting in earnest, wash your decoys in soap and warm water, then touch up the whites and blacks of heads, necks, breasts or tails. Replace heads on full-body goose decoys if they’re faded or consider flocking them. Anything that makes blacks blacker and whites whiter is going to help you attract more fowl.

4. Match the Conditions and 
Avoid the “Stale” Look
Most waterfowlers are paranoid of one day discovering that if only they’d had six dozen more decoys in their spread, they could have limited out instead of being a few birds shy. How embarrassing, which is why the average hunter sets out as many decoys as humanly possible and many goose hunters buy progressively bigger trailers.

Trouble is, this practice leads to all sorts of problems, not the least of which is having your spread “go stale.” If you hunt the same blind or general area week after week and you’re not blessed with a steady influx of fresh birds, your drawing power will decline precipitously should your spread always look the same. If familiarity breeds contempt, it also breeds fear, especially when birds get shot at every time they fly near the same flock of ducks or geese. Waterfowl seeking a safe place to feed or loaf are looking for familiar signs, and those signs change throughout the season.

5. Less Can Be More
Downsizing a spread is critical when decoying conditions are at their worst, i.e., in calm weather. While you’d think sheer numbers would entice wary ducks and geese into gun range, in this instance it actually works the opposite way. When there’s no wind, there’s no movement to your decoys. And the more of them you have, the more obvious it is to oncoming flocks. Nothing screams danger like a big spread of inert decoys, so use as few as you can to attract birds.

Or get creative. Champion goose caller Kelley Powers recalled one Canadian trip in which there was absolutely no breeze for five days running. For the first two he was pretty much skunked. Then he decided to pull all the feeder-style decoys and pack 20 to 30 uprights into a tight group, imitating a flock that had just landed and was checking out the surroundings. Over the next three days he and his buddies easily limited out.

If you hunt in cold weather, don’t forget those sleepers and resters. Ducks and geese spend much of their time on their bellies to conserve energy. Calm or windy, this is one time motion isn’t necessary.

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1 Response to 10 Ways To Improve Your Decoy Spread

Daryl wrote:
March 23, 2012

I only have 24 duck decoys. But my buddies and I went together to buy different brands of decoys. We mixed and matched to get a nice variety of positions/types of ducks. We only put out 15-24 decoys, but the variety really makes the spread