Downsizing Your Decoys

February 13, 2009 by  

By PJ Maguire

PJ holding the first band of 04 on opener

PJ holding the first band of '04 on opener

When I was a young waterfowler, not too many years ago there seemed to be only two brands of decoys: Flambeau and Carry-lite. My first duck and goose decoys were Flambeau and my high school hunting buddy, Matt Gouette, had Carry-lite’s. Nowadays, I cannot page through a waterfowl hunting magazine without seeing an ad for a new brand of decoy I have never heard of.

When I was growing up, the major lessons about decoys I received from various sources agreed on one thing, the more the merrier. The basic economic courses I took in college showed me that when supply is low demand is high and vice versa. So about ten years ago, when there was only a few major decoy manufacturers, the demand for decoys was great. Many waterfowl enthusiast saw this and tried to cash-in by starting decoy companies. A few have been great, but many have failed or make poor quality decoys. I am not willing to make any Nostradamas-like predictions about the future size of decoy spreads, but with so many hunters going big, it makes me nervous to go small.
When I pay close attention to the various hunting groups in my area, I tend to notice a trend with duck hunters. Too many hunters place their water duck decoys in just one big blob. I asked my friend and seasoned waterfowler Matt Jones, and he explained “Ducks do not naturally sit in one big group. They loft on the water in small family groups like greater Canada geese in fields.” Separating decoys gives decoying ducks multiple landing spots within your spread. Plus congesting a smaller body of water can make it appear over-crowded to passing ducks.

Today it is not uncommon for a hunter to use 30+ puddler decoys when hunting. There are very few times and regions where I believe you can effectively use this many decoys for puddlers. “Think about it. When was the last time you ever saw more than thirty ducks sitting on one piece of water in Minnesota. So why would you ever use that many decoys? To the ducks it appears unnatural,” said Matt Jones.

While hunting Greater Canada geese I have had a lot of success using small decoy spreads. My hunting partner, Lyle Sinner, has a small trailer that fits exactly four dozen full-body Canada decoys. I believe this is a good number of decoys to use in the early season for a couple different reasons. If birds are coming off of a roost to a programmed field, I believe they typically know how many geese feed in it. If the scout flock sees 100+ geese in the field they may become wary.

A successful morning over a small, realistic spread

A successful morning over a small, realistic spread

In September, greater Canada geese continue to feed in smaller family groups. Effective spreads have Canada decoys separated, which is usually mimicking how the geese feed. However, if you’re using a lot of decoys AND trying to mimic the family groups; this can cause too much separation. Geese landing outside the landing zone can be difficult shots for hunters and can result in more crippled birds.

Most waterfowlers use smaller decoy spreads because they lack space in their vehicles or wallets for them. However, some waterfowlers sacrifice size of decoy spreads for realism. Small families of various high-end decoys or “stuffers” can be deadly when hunting Canadas, and don’t require a lot set-up time. Keep in mind though, they require a lot of care. It is very difficult to use more than a few dozen of them.

A prize blue that fell victim to a full-body spread

A prize blue that fell victim to a full-body spread

Snow geese, which traditionally have always required large decoy spreads have been recently looked at in a different light. Some hunters now use their trailer space for eight dozen full-body snow geese decoys rather than two thousand windsocks. In my experience, the more realistic full-bodies have finished more birds, particularly in the fall. But the debate will always rage on as to which is more important, numbers or realism.

Whether or not you decide to go small with your decoy spreads, remember the times are changing. Waterfowling is an ever-evolving sport with new ideas and smarter birds. It is a sport where it is better to lead the pack than it is to follow behind.


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