by Wade Bourne
The following are creative decoy strategies from four experts: Reid Howell, Ross Malone, Ed McCoy, and Larry Smittle. They range from employing large spreads to putting out less than two dozen decoys. Their strategies apply to big waters and small, to open lakes and tree- and stump-cluttered beaver swamps. And tucked into these descriptions are decoy ideas and tips that other hunters can use anywhere.
They should learn from these masters and apply their advice for greater hunting success.
Reid Howell: Go for the Natural Look
Reid Howell runs the Pinhook Hunting Club in southeastern Missouri. Some of his blinds are in flooded fields; others are in timber. And when the nearby Mississippi River overflows its banks, Howell and his partners freelance hunt wherever ducks are working. Mallards are the predominant ducks they seek, though gadwalls, wigeon, pintails and other species also winter in this area.
When it comes to decoys, Howell believes in setting out a spread that's as natural as possible. "I've studied ducks a lot over the years, both from the air and also by spending time at a nearby refuge, observing what they look like, how they sit on the water, which ones show up better than others. By doing this, I've come up with some decoy ideas that are a little offbeat, but which have proven very effective over the years."
First, Howell mixes decoys of several brands in his spread. "I'll put out Flambeaus, G&H blocks, Greenheads, Carry-Lites. Each brand of decoy has its own 'look.' If you use all one brand in your spread, they all have the same general appearance. But if you mix several brands, you get variation in body style and color. This is a lot more natural looking than having all the same brand.
"Also, I'll mix different-size decoys—standards, magnums, and super-magnums. When you look at ducks on the water, some appear bigger than others. Setting out different size decoys gives this appearance."
Howell is a strong believer in using several species in his spread. "My normal spread includes from five to six dozen decoys. Most will be mallards, but one dozen will be black duck decoys for extra visibility. Black or dark-colored decoys stand out better. They're easier for passing ducks to see, so I add these in to increase my spread's visibility.
"Also, sometimes I put out a couple of pairs of shovelers, maybe some pintails and some teal. I've learned by watching real ducks that a lot of times these species will segregate themselves from the mallards. For instance, the teal will usually be on the shallow side of the pond, next to the weeds. Same with the shovelers. They'll be shallower than the mallards. And pintails prefer to be on the outside of a concentration of mallards, closer to deeper water. So I take these preferences into account when I'm setting my spread."