April 16, 2024
More times than not though decoys are the money maker in the equation that is duck hunting. Here are five of the best duck decoy tips and tactics for hunting wary waterfowl. 

By: Justin Hunold

Make sure your decoys are visible but you are well hidden

A lot of days when we venture into the marsh we find ourselves in competition. We aren’t just going head to head with Mother Nature and Father Time but also other hunters. And although some of us might be contest winning callers or crack shots there is one aspect of duck hunting that makes a difference time and time again…Decoys. You can call well but normally ducks won’t light into a hole unless you are on the X and shooting doesn’t matter unless they come in. More times than not though decoys are the money maker in the equation that is duck hunting. Here are five of the best duck decoy tips and tactics for hunting wary waterfowl. 

Keep it Clean- Keep Your Decoys in Working Order 

When you look at ducks on the water, on the shore or just out in nature what is one tithing they do a lot? Ducks preen, they clean themselves. Waterfowl by nature of both temperament, and anatomy tend to prefer to be clean.

So, it stands to reason that muddy, scuffed, and just overall scroungy looking decoys aren’t optimum. Sometimes the ducks will not care, other times they will flare the second they see a mudded mallard drake. You can’t know on which day and which ducks will react in which way.

I would venture to say that the realism of the decoy paint, shape and detail matter way less than them being clean and in overall the correct color patterns. I’m not saying a flocked head isn’t better but I think a clean, bargain bin decoy with bright, basic, paint will draw birds just fine in most cases when they are well taken care of and not all crapped up. 

This is not to say that high end decoys with immaculate paint schemes aren’t worth the money, because they can make a difference. Just make sure if you’re going to spend the extra to get the extra draw. Natural looking decoys are meant to look natural and in nature most ducks prefer to be clean. 

Keep it Moving- Adding Motion To your Decoy Spread 

We have covered the idea of motion in the spread in previous blogs, but the principle of movement in the decoys can’t be overstated. When we watch ducks being ducks and duck things what we see is a lot of movement in a natural flock. We need to be thinking about this is our decoy spreads too. 

Spinning wings are normally step number one in folks’ thoughts of adding motion to the spread, and a lot of times they are a great bet. Keep em clean, keep em charged, use your remote, and make sure to lean towards using them on the outer edges of the spread rather than in the pocket or X you want the birds to touch down in.  If there is overhead cover available to mask the spinners, even better. Remember ducks see spinners from opening day to day 60, use some tact and reserve when employing them. 

Swimming or Feeding decoys are a great addition as well, but again I like these more towards the middle of a group of decoys and more to the outer edge of the overall spread. I want the birds to see the movement but I want them to have an open landing zone. At an airport the runway is always cleared for landings but the taxiways and terminals are always buzzing with aeronautical activity. The same thought applies to decoy spreads. 

A place where I will apply movement near the X is with a jerk rig. There are lots of ways to skin the cat with building a jerk rig, and all of them can work. Those differences are depth and water dependent. But if I could only have one source of movement it would be a jerk rig. And I don’t hesitate for the dekes on that rig to be close to the landing zone. 

Two more caveats on motion in the decoys. First, don’t tie off all your decoys from the front tie point. When you have a consistent wind all the decoys will end up facing the same direction. There are two holes for a reason. Secondly, a jerk rig or remote on a motion decoy is a great way to get a new hunter, or bad caller involved in the hunt in a real tangible and important way. That motion can probably lead to as many ducks as your calling. The same motion will definitely lead to more ducks than bad calling or an inexperienced hunter watching the sky because they don’t have anything else to focus on.

Spread ‘em – Space Your Decoys Out More

This is a great example of naturally spread out ducks .

If there is one thing running long lines taught me it’s that spreading the decoys out can make the raft of ducks look much larger than the number of decoys would make you believe it could be. This is true in puddlers too. I generally carry somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen to a dozen and a half duck decoys on a lot of my hunting trips. 

Shy away from using the typical U shape with your 3 dozen decoys and replace it with a split spread with a few more spread out dekes. The ducks have seen the U and the J, they will work, but the ducks can’t spell and if they can, who knows if they speak english. I have taken to placing two separate pods or groups of ducks with a landing zone in the middle. A few decoys in each group will be very close to each other but the others will be spread out to look like a much more numerous group of birds. This setup has become my goto. I write for a living but I am not using phonetic symbols to dictate my decoy set up. 

With that more spread out for fewer decoy ideas at play, I normally run a pile of Mallards and then a couple Black Ducks or Shoveler decoys to add some contrast and visibility to my spread. I like to group those ducks a bit closer together and in the middle of the group of mallards. 

Take Your Time- Place Your Decoys

Listen, we all run on very little sleep during the season. I understand that a lot of times you’re hitting snooze and letting the set up happen however it may. I beg of you, give yourself a few extra minutes to place your spread out rather than toss it our in haste. 

This is a tip I’ve seen work in action a lot. When everyone else is tossing their blocks out early and getting them soaked so by the time shooting light rolls around they are shining with ice, I have killed ducks over decoys that I painstakingly hand placed so as not to splash them. This gives them a more natural, less plastic and frozen look.

Decoys not having ice on them doesn’t always matter. I have seen it matter in very high pressure situations. I’d love to tell you those times it was my calling that made a difference, but in my opinion I’m a slightly better than average caller but my attention to detail in set up tends to be better than slightly better than average. 

This tip is a lot like keeping your decoys clean. There are times when real ducks are covered in snow and ice, but that’s when it’s snowing and the November gails are blowing, not when they were in clear skies on a frosty morning. So, take a second and gently place your decoys in the water. You may be surprised how much difference this can make. 

I See You Hiding- Hide Your Boat

Use your craft to get you near the spot, then ditch it and hide it well.

This tip comes from watching people not shoot ducks that should be landing in their decoy spread, hide your boat. We all generally do a great job of hiding ourselves, our dogs, and our other gear but for some reason folks seem to act like their boat is Wonder Woman’s invisible jet and ducks will never notice it. You’re not Linda Carter or Gal Gadot, hide your boat. 

A lot of the time folks will choose to hunt from the boat, a little patch of aluminum heaven, dry ish and comfortable ish, but I choose to stash my vessel somewhere else close by. I learned this trick from our mutual friend TJ and I stick with it no matter if it’s a boat, kayak or canoe. I don’t hunt from the boat, I take time and effort to hide it. 

Picture you’re a duck cupped and coming into a nice group of your friends. As you drop down and begin to focus on the whole you see a green mass where there isn’t normally one. Or you’re circling over and as you make a pass you see a boat on the opposite side of the point from the decoys you were about to land in. They shouldn’t be there! It’s not safe! There’s hunters! 

I personally like to use a stool or seat and build a nice stick blind, or use a layout or just tuck myself in the natural cover over the timber or vegetation. When I do this I have stashed my watercraft within easy walking distance but it’s covered with grasses, burlap, camo mesh and sticks. It might not be there everyday but I make it look as normally natural as possible to the overhead birds. 

I believe more birds get saved by boats that look like boats than maybe anything else. Take a second and hide that thing. I promise your friend doesn’t need to hear your story that badly. If you’re alone, what the hell else do you have to do? It’s your job to do stuff right!

Closing Time

This isn’t to say you can’t kill ducks with a dirty, no motion, tightly packed, J shaped, soaked looking decoy spread from the comfort of your boat. You truly can. But why risk it? Isn’t part of the fun of waterfowl hunting the details, the constant adjustments, and doing your best to fool those flying survival machines? We hope these tips and tactics give you something to think about and maybe bring you a little extra success when the ducks are pressured and don’t want a typical spread.