Convert Shell Decoys to Floaters

February 13, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad with help from Tyler Ellenson

If you’re reading this article, then I’m assuming you have an interest in decoying snow geese. Whether you’ve been doing it for years, or whether this is your first step in giving it a try, welcome to the insane world of hunting snows. If you take snow goose hunting seriously, than you know that trying to decoy them is much more than just setting out decoys in any field. You need a lot of elements and factors to come together right in order to expect an effective hunt. Many people will tell you luck is the biggest factor, which to some degree is true, but why is it that some people consistently shoot more than others? They’re either really lucky, or they know what they’re doing.

The guys who know what they’re doing know that snow goose hunting over decoys is usually a numbers game, and requires the most realistic decoys in a realistic situation. When I say a “realistic situation”, I mean you’re setting up your decoys where the snow geese want to be. In the spring, you’re able to target the geese where you can’t normally target them in the fall. In the fall, snow geese normally rely on the same refuges to roost every migration, where of course they’re safe from hunters. When the snow geese migrate north in the spring, they’ll use whatever they feel safe, and that list of options is enormous compared to the fall. In the spring, you can find snow geese roosting on sheetwater, ponds, sloughs, lakes, mudflats adjoining water or even sitting on ice. These are great places to target snow geese, but it requires the right decoy spread.

That’s where this article comes in. Before the spring season, I didn’t hear of snow goose floater spreads. So in order to get give it a try meant starting from scratch. Starting a snow goose spread from scratch costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and isn’t feasible for the average hunter. But if you’ve already invested into a land decoy spread, you have options. If you’re like me, my snow goose shell decoys collect dust. That doesn’t mean they don’t work, but their lack of moment and time required to setup isn’t a feasible option in my opinion. So what Tyler and I came up with was a homemade plan on how to convert your shell decoys into floaters. Through trial and error, we’ve come up with a prototype that works effectively,and holds up extremely well. Give it a try, you’d be surprised what even 20 snow floaters alone can decoy!

The first step is to acquire some construction foam. The cheapest way to acquire it is to search out dumpsters at construction sites. You’ll need pieces that are at least as long and wide as your shell decoy base. Considering we had 150 to do, we bought sheets to save time. Take the shell decoy, use a permanant marker and trace around the decoy. You’ll want the cutout to be a bit wider than the shell decoy itself, so when in doubt draw a bit wider than the base.
We found the easiest way to cut out the decoy was with a hand saw, you may find another method that’s easier for you. When you’re cutting the foam, you’ll want to cut at a slight inward angle. With a slight inward angle, it’ll fit into the shell easier and will have a better hold from the very beginning.
Here is a good example of what a cutout should look like in comparison with the shell decoy itself. If you can tell, the cutout is a bit wider than the shell. When you insert it into the shell, it’ll hold together real tight. If it’s not wide, it’ll end up like the photo below.
Here is an example as to why you don’t want to have the cutout cut too narrow. When inserted into the decoy, there’s a gap along the edges. Over time, this can cause the seal to weaken and will force you to make repairs. If you ensure that the cutout has the right width, you’re half way there.
The next thing to think about after you’ve cutout the base, is the keel. Again, you can raid construction yard dumpsters to find what you’re looking for. We found that concrete wood stakes worked slick. The water didn’t penetrate and warp the wood, and it was plenty heavy to keep the decoy from tipping over in the wind. We used an electric saw and cut the keel to the right length, about 6-9 inches depending on your cutout length.
Soon or later, you’re going to have to drill a hole through the wood so you can tie cord or string for the weight. I suggest drilling right after you cut to the correct length. It’ll make things easier on you a few steps later.
Now you can take your keel, and place it onto the center of your cutout. Once it’s centered, take a marker and trace around it. Unlike the foam cutout, you don’t want the keel trace to run wide. You want it about the exact same size, or maybe a bit narrower. Again, you’re looking for a snug fit here.
After you’re done tracing, take a razor blade or sharp knife and cut out about 3/4″ of the foam,cutting at an angle to form a “triangle” angle. The results can vary a bit with the same success, but the key is to not cut it wide and have the keel fit into it and stay snug.
This step may not be necessary, but we didn’t want to take any chances so I suggest including it. We applied a line of waterproof caulking, so when you insert the keel it’ll help ensure a strong hold.
After you’ve inserted the keel, apply some waterproof caulking around the outside edges, and caulk the keel to the foam base itself. We used a butter knife and smoothed out the caulking for a nicer finish.
Not that your base is complete, you’re ready to mount it to your decoy.
Like I mentioned earlier, with a nice cutout the base will hold pretty good as is and makes it easy for putting on the finishing touches. To help hold the cutout in place, and since most of our shell decoys had holes on the side and in the front, we used long nails to help hold the cutout in place. This isn’t exactly a highly critical step, but I think it has helped durability of many.
Make sure the cutout is holding right at the bottom of the shell. You can get away with it being up to an inch or so into the shell itself, but you want to try to keep the cutout along the bottom of the shell.
The last step, and most important, is to apply a finishing layer of waterproof caulking along the cutout base and the inside edge of the shell decoy. This photo shows two applied strips of caulking, with a gap in the front middle. I suggest using as much caulking as possible, and even connect the two strips as one. The more you apply, the stronger the hold. During the spring last year, I only remember 3 instances of any of the decoys flipping over. Since I was paranoid as to the consequences of shine, we applied a quick layer of flat white spray paint to the bottoms. So if one did flip over, it won’t shine.
After you tie on the cord and weight, you’ve got yourself a nifty snow goose floater. If you’re hunting the Central or Mississippi flyways, than you’ll want to have some blue goose floaters mixed in as well. The easiest way to paint the decoy is to buy spray cans of flat white, flat light blue and flat darkish grayish-blue. There’s no secret to it, but a cutout template really helps. Use a strong plastic for the cutout and it’ll last a long time.
With 4 guys working on this, we were able to average about 8 decoys/hour. After you build a couple and get used to it, your average will increase.
When it was all said and done, we put them to the test. We used them for many all day setups last spring and they held up VERY well. The only thing we did wrong was that we didn’t use waterproof caulking on some, and the caulking weakened over time. These decoys RARELY flipped over, and were used in some strong ND wind. We found that most of our factory decoys tipped over in high winds while our homemades stayed upright. In other words, they work.

If you get yourself the materials, a shop to do it in and some willing fellow helpers, you can amass a floater spread in no time. Quit reading about how well guys decoy snows over water and get out there and do it!


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