Written by James Card; illustrations by Kevin Hand
In recent years, decoy manufacturers have broken the mold. For decades, plastic decoys were cookie-cutter representations of waterfowl mass-produced from generic plastic molds. They had little resemblance to the classic wooden and cork decoys master carvers once crafted by hand in their workshops. But fortunately for today's waterfowlers, all that has changed.
Many modern plastic decoys, such as Avery's Greenhead Gear (GHG) line, are made from molds created from actual hand-carved decoys produced by contemporary masters. The results are ultra-realistic—or as close to the real McCoy as one can get with plastic. In addition, many of these next-generation decoys come with moveable heads and in a variety of attitudes and postures that mimic the behaviors of real waterfowl. This has brought a whole new level of realism to the decoy game, allowing duck and goose hunters to assemble incredibly lifelike spreads that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.
Of course, more realistic decoys can mean more ducks and geese in your game bag, but you have to know how and where to use them for maximum effect. What follows are four waterfowl hunting scenarios—from four Avery pro-staffers—that will help you incorporate these cutting-edge decoys into your spreads and lure more ducks and geese to your gun.
Hudnall's Big-River Combination Spread
Field Hudnall of LaGrange, Kentucky, has developed an ultra-realistic big-river decoy spread with a twist. He uses large numbers of goose decoys on the big waters of the Ohio River to bring in ducks as well as geese. "Ducks can see Canada goose decoys from much farther away than duck decoys because they are larger and have more color contrast," he says.
Hudnall's typical big-river rig consists of multiple "pods" of duck and goose decoys set on land and in the water. He uses large numbers of GHG life-size Canada goose floaters in active, feeding, and resting postures. On the outer edge of the spread, he runs a line of active-style floaters about 45 to 50 yards from the blind. Resters and sleepers are positioned in the shallow water just offshore. Directly in front of the blind, in the "kill hole," he places a combination of GHG oversize, surface-feeder, no-head, and butt-up mallard decoys imitating a contented flock of resting and feeding birds. The mass of decoys near the shoreline, along with effective calling, helps pull incoming waterfowl into the landing zone created by the outer wing of decoys. Smaller gaps between groups of decoys offer alternative landing areas.
Diagram of Hudnall's Big-River Combination Spread – click image to enlarge.
But Hudnall cautions against placing too many decoys offshore. Instead, he prefers to spread as many decoys as possible along the riverbank upwind of his blind. "If ducks and geese are up on the bank, then surely it's a great place to be. There might be food, they can rest out of the current or wind, and they can get grit," he says.
The dry-land component of Hudnall's rig is even more varied than his water set. These decoys include fully flocked (FFD Elite) full-body Canadas in looker, feeder, and active postures, and shells in rester, feeder, and sleeper positions. Groups of GHG oversize full-body mallards round out the spread. All are set on motion stakes to provide lifelike movement in the slightest breeze.