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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

So, What Type of Spread?

Back to the original question: How should a beginning hunter assemble his first spread? Based on all the above variables, here's my advice, or rather, here's what I do.

I hunt both freelance-style and from a permanent pit, and I maintain three separate decoy spreads. For freelancing in swamps, floodwaters, and other shallow waters, I use 36 standard decoys that are divided into two mesh bags. These bags have backpack straps in case I need to leave my boat and walk or wade to a hunting site. These decoys include 28 mallards, four pintail drakes, and four black ducks. I keep these decoys mud-free and shiny bright for maximum realism.

When the shallows freeze, I hunt on big water – lakes and rivers – that are still open. Here I use a spread of 24 super magnum mallard decoys and eight Canada goose floaters. Again, these decoys are clean and have good paint jobs. They have extra-long anchor lines and 16-ounce anchors to hold in rough water or strong current.

And as described earlier, the permanent spread around my pit has approximately 350 decoys in a hodgepodge of species, sizes, and materials. This spread sits in a flooded field adjacent to a large river that ducks and geese fly daily. My big spread and loud, persuasive calling are intended to capture passing birds' attention and deter them from their original destination.

How well do these spreads work? They work well some days and not so well on other days. When ducks and geese are in the right mood and I'm in the right spot, they're very effective. But it's my experience that the world's best spread won't work if hunting conditions are bad or birds have their minds set on somewhere else.

Ultimately, building a decoy spread is a means of stacking the odds in your favor. Assemble the most realistic, most effective spread possible. Then, set it out in the best spot you know and hunker down. At this point, you've done all you can. The next move is up to the birds, and hopefully it'll be your way.

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