In the old days, market hunters used boat paddles to pile mud clumps in
shallow ponds to make "decoys." Today, successful waterfowlers
need to reach deep into their decoy sack of tricks to fool sharp-eyed birds.
For starters, consider decoy species. All across North
America, the majority of hunters probably use mallard decoys.
Since so many people use mallards, ducks may equate bobbing green heads with
death. Instead, pick the common species that inhabit a particular area.
"I like to mix up my species, but that mostly depends upon what I find in
scouting," said Jacob Sartain of Mississippi. "If I see a lot of mallards in
my area, I'll use mallard decoys. If I see mostly gadwalls in an area, I'll
come back with gadwall decoys, but may use some other decoys as well just to
give the spread some diversity."
Although many sportsmen hold shovelers in low
regard, decoys representing these species can work effectively. Since so few people use shoveler decoys,
ducks learn to associate big-billed birds with safety. From long
distances, ducks can easily spot the distinctive spoon-shaped bills and whitish
"People laughed at me when I started putting out shoveler
decoys, but they are colorful ducks," explained Charles Snapp
"Birds can see the colors and their big, wide bills. Ducks aren't used to seeing shoveler decoys. All kinds of ducks come to shoveler decoys."
Many old-time hunters set their decoys in V, Y, J, L or I patterns. That works, but don't fret so much over the shape. In the wild, ducks group in pairs or clusters and constantly swim back and forth,
obliterating any tidy patterns. Instead, arrange similar species together in
small bunches or pairs.
For instance, place several teal in a tight wad off to one side close to the
grass. Put some gadwalls on the other side of the blind. Add a few diving ducks
in open water at extreme range to serve as shooting markers. Regardless of
pattern, leave enough room in the best shooting zone to give newcomers a place
to land, right at optimum range!
"I like to build two different blocks of decoys with a landing zone in the
middle," Sartain explained. "I always like to
position some decoys in shallow water right near the shoreline so it looks like
ducks feeding near the grass. We'll string the decoys out from there to lead
the birds into the landing zone."
Put Decoys In Motion
Adding a little motion to a static decoy spread can also help bring in more
birds. More than a decade ago, the electronic decoy phenomenon swept the
waterfowl world. Birds could see the flash of spinning wings from long
distances. In states that permit the use of electronic decoys, deploy them off
to one side, never directly in front of the blind. The motion draws the
attention of birds coming in to land. Make ducks focus their attention away
from the blind so they don't look into the blind.
To add realistic movement without placing electronic decoys in the spread,
some waterfowlers deploy jerk cords. A jerk cord
consists of one or more decoys anchored to the bottom and tied to a string
stretching back to the blind. Pulling the string makes the decoys bob up and
down, creating lifelike rippling in the water.
To set up a jerk cord, secure a pulley or wire hoop device to the bottom
about 30- to 35 yards out in the pond. Run a dark or camouflaged sinking cord
through the pulley and attach one or more decoys to the line so that the decoys
dip into the water like feeding ducks when someone in the blind pulls the cord.
Some people may add a small, light bungee cord to make the decoy snap back into
place. Some companies sell jerk cord kits containing everything one needs to
Ironically, hunters on public land hold an advantage when it comes to
decoys. Even if hunters use the same pond every day of the season, no two will
create identical decoy patterns. Therefore, ducks see something different each
Even on private land, where many waterfowlers
leave decoys out all season, change the pattern frequently. Birds seeing the
same pattern each day may grow wary of that pond. Periodically, move a few
decoys or swap out species. For instance, use more teal early in the season and
more mallards later to give the decoys a different look.
Keep birds guessing. This can put more feathers in the bag.
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