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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Building a Decoy Spread

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Story at a Glance
Elements to consider in building a spread:
  • Decoy Species
  • Decoy Size
  • Decoy Materials
  • Solid Keel or Water Keel
  • How Many Decoys?
  • Specialty Decoys
  • What Type of Spread?
  • Rigging Options
  • Thoughts on Movement

My decoy spread is a motley collection, compiled a dozen at a time over four decades of hunting. This past season, I set nearly 350 decoys around a pit in a flooded river bottom field, and what a menagerie!

This spread included super magnum, magnum, and standard decoys, all mixed together; weighted and water keels; decoys made from plastic, hard foam, and cork. I used floaters, shells, and full-body stand-ups. I counted eight different species: mallards, pintails, black ducks, green-winged teal, Canada geese, wood ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, and coots. Then, there were several decoys painted all black for long-range visibility and pulling power. There were also different types of motion-makers (wing-spinners and water agitators).

Building a decoy spread is one of the most enjoyable aspects of waterfowl hunting. It combines imagination and experimentation. There are theories galore on how to increase a spread's attraction to ducks and geese. An array of gadgets are available that make a spread come to life and there are dozens of options for rigging decoys. No wonder beginners need help when it comes to putting their first spread together.

However, most confusion can be avoided if hunters will apply two rules:

  1. The old architect's maxim: Form follows function.
    A freelancer's spread will obviously differ from a big permanent spread around a blind or pit. A run-and-gun hunter has specific needs in decoys and rigging systems. The same is true for hunting in fields, on rivers, on open water, and so on. A decoy spread should be assembled with a specific use in mind.

  2. There are no absolutes in using decoys.
    Some guidelines will apply most of the time, but decoy numbers, size, species, movement, etc., are all subjective in nature. If a spread is working, no matter how different or offbeat it might be, stick with it. But if it's not pulling birds, try something else. Tinkering with a spread is the only way to make it better.

In a sense, building a decoy spread is like a woman putting on makeup. She starts with foundation, then applies the frills – lipstick and eyeliner. Hunters should start with a basic spread, then add innovations when they can. Before they know it, they will have their own menagerie, and hopefully it will be a spread that waterfowl can't resist.

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