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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

Decoy Species

In most puddle duck spreads, mallards are the predominant species. In nature, these ducks are universal, and other species routinely intermingle with them. Thus, mallard decoys will also draw pintails, teal, gadwalls, widgeons, and other puddle ducks. There's nothing wrong with setting out an all-mallard spread.

However, two refinements can add realism and attraction to a spread. The white on pintail drakes and the all-dark bodies of black ducks will make a spread more visible and help capture passing ducks' attention. Where these birds exist naturally, the addition of either (or both) of these species can enhance a spread's drawing power. Freelancers assembling a portable spread might rig two-dozen mallards, six pintail drakes, and six black ducks. Hunters setting a large permanent spread around a blind or pit should increase these numbers exponentially, depending on how many decoys they're putting out.

Other species can be included in a puddle duck spread: teal, gadwalls, wood ducks, and wigeon. However, there is probably little additional benefit gained by sprinkling an occasional odd species through a spread, especially a large one. I do this, but only because I have these decoys from years gone by, not because I bought them specifically to enhance my spread's attraction to that particular species.

On the other hand, sometimes hunters specifically target wood ducks, pintails, teal, gadwalls, or widgeon, when these are the predominant duck present. In this case, they might assemble a decoy spread solely—or mostly—of their target species. Still, in most places and times, a spread of mallard decoys will work just as well.

With divers, the decision on species is easy. Put out what's natural in your area: bluebills, redheads, and/or canvasbacks. (Even when canvasbacks aren't allowed in the bag, these big, bright decoys will help pull other diving ducks into your spread.) If puddle ducks are working the same area, set a few mallard, black duck, or pintail decoys out to the side of your diver rig.

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