By Wade Bourne
My hunting partners and I call our decoy spread "The Surge." Last season we were faring poorly at our new spot. We were hunting from a pit at the edge of a flooded swag in an open field. We had 300 Canada goose decoys on the ground behind us and 10 dozen ducks floating in front, but ducks would consistently circle our spot and then break off and fly away.
My partner's 22-year-old son spoke up one morning. "I'm tired of this," he said. "If nobody objects, I'm going to change the decoys. I'm going to make this place look like a refuge!"
I left that afternoon, and when I returned three days later, I was astounded to see how much our spread had grown. Now we had about 500 duck decoys divided into linear groups to the left and right of our pit. The decoys were so close together many were almost touching. Also, the young hunter had completely covered the pit with goose decoys and moved other geese to the water's edge to merge with the ducks.
From that point on, the birds would come in, sail around once or twice, and then pitch into the open hole in front of the pit. If ducks tried to land outside shotgun range, we could usually coax them into the hole with insistent calling.
The young hunter had indeed made our spread look like birds on a refuge, and both ducks and geese liked it. It had taken no small amount of work to do so, but the great shooting we enjoyed from then on made his effort more than worthwhile.
I'd hunted over other massive decoy spreads before, and I know that in certain situations, a huge spread will outdraw a smaller spread because of its greater visibility and attraction. Both ducks and geese are often drawn to big numbers.
The place to consider a massive decoy spread is beneath a flyway where passing birds have a clear view of the spread. For instance, our spot is in a field bordering the Mississippi River in western Kentucky. Most waterfowl we shoot are trading along the river instead of coming to our field. But when they see the huge decoy spread, many lock up and hook around to check it out.
For several years, I hunted from an open-water blind on Lake Barkley in Kentucky, and my partners and I surrounded our blind with about 500 decoys. I've also hunted from blinds at Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee that had 600 decoys around them. And one Reelfoot blind I passed daily had some 2,000 decoys bobbing around it. This massive spread measured approximately 100 yards in diameter.
Obviously, such gigantic spreads are set out for the duration of the season. Heavy decoy weights and tough lines are required. Strong winds and high waves can play havoc with decoys that aren't firmly anchored.
With a massive spread, any decoys will work just fine. They don't have to be new with bright paint jobs. In fact, on Lake Barkley a third of our decoys were gallon milk jugs coated in black roofing tar. We mixed these randomly among our duck decoys, and the birds never showed any hesitation to work to them. In fact, I think these all-black "decoys" helped draw birds by increasing our spread's visibility. (Check local regulations before using plastic jugs as decoys. They are prohibited in some areas.)
Hunters can save money assembling a massive spread by buying used decoys during the off-season. Also, check out eBay and "hot buy" decoys at the end of the season. Again, quantity is more important than quality.
Don't worry about setting decoys close to each other. If you look at big concentrations of ducks, you'll see that there's often very little space between birds. Be sure to keep decoy lines untangled. If you don't, it won't be long until your spread will begin to look "clumpy." Leave an open area in front of the blind where ducks can land. The hole in front of our pit measures about 20 yards across. We line the hole with the freshest decoys we have since this is where incoming ducks will focus their attention.
We add motion to our spread on calm days with jerk strings, a Mallard Machine, four Pulsators, and assorted "hockey puck" wobblers. This year we also plan to test two Ice Eaters to keep water open during a freeze and to provide decoy movement on calm days.
A massive decoy spread is a highly specialized rig for a particular hunting circumstance. It's somewhat pricey to assemble and takes work to rig, set out, and maintain. But in the right place and time, it can be the best decoy option. And when the birds are pouring in, the cost and effort are easily forgotten.