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10 Surefire Decoy Strategies

Make your spread irresistible to waterfowl this fall
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By Will Brantley

Dedicated waterfowlers understand that to get a leg up on today's stiff hunting competition they must do everything possible to set themselves apart. Scout harder. Call better. Shoot straighter. Set a better decoy spread. This last imperative may be the most important of all.   

In areas with heavy hunting pressure, ducks and geese often get a crash course in what looks right and what doesn't. Those that survive the gauntlet of the early season can be even more cautious about committing to the decoys. Setting a spread that can convince even the wariest waterfowl will give you an advantage over other hunters. Here are 10 expert tips that will consistently help you close the deal.

1. Make Your Spread Visible

One cold and windy morning last season my hunting partners and I got a late start, so we decided to do some scouting before we set up. Although we couldn't find big flocks of ducks concentrated in any one spot, quite a few birds were flying up and down the main channel of the Tennessee River. We decided to set our decoys just off a large point and tuck ourselves into cover along the shoreline. The spread—a mixture of four dozen diver and puddle duck decoys—wasn't huge. But it was visible, thanks to the black-and-white diver decoys. Ducks flying the river could see them from hundreds of yards away. Not every flock decoyed into our spread, but quite a few of them did. By lunchtime we had a nice mixed bag of gadwalls, goldeneyes, and bluebills.

What's the lesson in this story? Not every decoy spread has to be set in a prime feeding or resting area. On a windy day, or on flight days when large numbers of birds are on the move, simply setting a good spread in an area where ducks will see it can result in a productive hunt.

2. Keep Water Open around Your Decoys

Ice is one of the most challenging conditions a duck hunter can face when setting decoys. If the ice is thick, you can break it up into big free-floating sheets and push them under the surrounding ice. This will create an open hole to set the decoys in.

Skim ice, however, can be more of a challenge. This thin ice breaks into small pieces when you walk through it, churn it with an outboard motor, or drive through it with a four-wheeler (if the water is shallow enough). Pieces of skim ice in the decoys reflect sunlight like a broken mirror and can spook wary ducks and geese. Although you can clear a hole of broken ice with a rake or net, the water often refreezes quickly on cold mornings.

For the ultimate solution to this problem, consider purchasing an ice eliminator such as the Ice Blaster from Higdon Decoys. It works by turning a prop under-water and churning warmer water from the bottom to the surface. This unit not only helps keep your spread clear of ice, but can also add movement to your decoys. If you get to your spot early, break the ice a little bit and put the Ice Blaster to work; you'll have an open hole for your decoys by shooting light.

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