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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 Materials

Most modern decoys are molded from thermoplastic resin, and they are hollow inside. This material holds paint well and lends itself to great detail in decoy features. Hollow plastic decoys are reasonably lightweight and tough, but they are somewhat expensive. They are the standard for most hunters in most settings. Their main drawback, however, is vulnerability to stray shot. A misdirected pellet can cause a leak that must be repaired, or the decoy will sink.

The main option to molded plastic decoys is solid foam decoys, which are virtually indestructible and not affected by shot. Solid foam decoys are heavy, however, and expensive. They are used primarily by hunters who set permanent spreads and who desire the ultimate in toughness and seaworthiness.

Wood and cork are traditional materials for making decoys, but both pale in performance to plastic and solid foam decoys. Wood and cork decoys are heavy and very pricey. Some traditionalist hunters still prefer them, especially cork decoys, which ride well in rough water. But decoys of these two materials probably comprise fewer than 1 percent of all gunning decoys in use today.

Solid Keel or Water Keel

Floating decoys come with two types of keels: solid and water keel. Solid keels are sealed with weight inside. Water keels are hollow and fill with water for ballast when they are set out.

Solid keel decoys are more convenient to use. They will roll upright when tossed out. Their disadvantages are that they weigh more, and they're more expensive than water keel decoys.

Water keel decoys, on the other hand, are not self-righting. They must be set on the water right side up to allow the keel to start filling with water, and this can be time-consuming. Also, hunters picking up water keel decoys must drain each decoy, or they will collect water in their boat.

So, if decoys are to be set out and taken up frequently, solid keels are the better choice. They are less bothersome in terms of self-righting, and they don't leak water when taken up. The best use for water keel decoys is in a permanent spread, where they will be left out for long periods. Once deployed, they ride as well as solid keels. The only nuisance with these decoys is in setting them out and picking them up.

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