by Keith Sutton
If you've never used confidence decoys, study the following information and try them sometime. See if you think they make a difference. Chances are good you will.
Types of Confidence Decoys
All confidence decoys have the same basic purpose: to create an embellished sense of realism that gives ducks confidence in their decision to land in your decoy spread. Each confidence decoy is an added detail that helps relay the message, "It's safe here. Come on down."
In the strictest sense of the term, a confidence decoy is an imitation of a species you probably don't intend to shoot but one that might normally be found among a contented flock of waterfowl. These are normally waterbirds or wading birds, particularly those that are wary by nature. The confidence decoys most commonly used represent geese, herons, coots and sea gulls. Where swans are common, swan decoys often are employed in this manner. Other species occasionally used include sandhill cranes, egrets, mergansers, loons and even cormorants.
If we broaden the definition somewhat, we might also include in this category specialty waterfowl decoys such as sleeping and feeding duck representations that also add details of realism to a spread.
Moving and motorized decoys might be considered confidence decoys as well, but in this article we'll restrict our conversation to the aforementioned types.
Geese are probably the most commonly used confidence decoys today. Waterfowlers in all areas of the country use them to enhance their duck decoy spreads.
Some hunters may use white-fronted or snow goose representations, but these aren't often employed as these species tend to form their own large flocks and seldom mingle as singles or small groups near a flock of ducks. Canada geese, on the other hand, often feed at the edges of duck flocks in pairs or groups. Consequently, Canada goose decoys make good confidence decoys.
These are wary birds, so their presence in a rig indicates all is okay. And more importantly perhaps, their large size allows them to be seen from a greater distance, adding visibility to the spread. Most savvy waterfowlers consider it best to place them in pairs here and there on the outside edge of the duck decoys (on shore or in the water), typically on the upwind side. Standing, floating and silhouette models are available.
You may get teased mercilessly by your friends if you add water chickens to your spread, but coot decoys are good confidence decoys. They were commonly added to the decoy spreads of 19th century hunters, and because they're readily available today, they still are used by enterprising waterfowlers.
Coots often mix with flocks of puddle ducks, eating vegetation and bugs stirred up by dabblers such as pintails, wigeons, gadwalls and mallards. To a lesser extent, they also attend flocks of redheads, canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks and other divers. Whenever coots are in the area you're hunting, you might want to consider setting at least a dozen coot decoys out to the side of your duck decoys.
Herons, Egrets and Cranes
Great blue herons are among the wariest bird species in North America. Consequently, confidence decoys representing this species are among those most used by waterfowlers. By placing one or two of these decoys about 50 to 100 yards away from your waterfowl decoys, you can create an appearance of safety for passing duck flights.
Some hunters prefer egret decoys, which are white, saying they are more visible to ducks. And in states where sandhill cranes are common, hunters often add crane decoys to their spreads.
Sea gull decoys may be the oldest type of confidence decoy still in use. Hunters in coastal areas of the East and North used them more than a century ago. Usually one or two gulls were positioned on the edge of the set to give it a natural look, but some hunters placed them right on top of their sinkboxes or lined them up on the top of blinds.
Sea gull confidence decoys still remain popular with some coastal hunters hoping to sneak under the radar of wary divers and sea ducks. Hunters on inland water bodies use them only rarely, but a few sea gulls added to a spread on one of the many lakes or rivers frequented by gulls would probably prove useful. Standing and floating models are available.
Swans have become increasingly abundant in several states in recent decades, and some hunters have begun adding swan decoys to their spreads with reported success. Because manufactured swan decoys tend to be relatively expensive, these hunters often paint Canada goose decoys white to represent swans. But the floating Swan Aqua Vac Decoy from Carry-Lite Hunting Decoys (www.carrylitedecoys) offers an alternative for hunters who don't want to go to that trouble.
Swan decoys like goose decoys are large, thus making your spread more visible to high-flying or distant ducks. One or two placed a few yards from the edge of your regular spread may draw ducks that would otherwise pass you by. If you hope to bag some geese as well, however, hunters in-the-know say to dispense with the swan decoys. Geese apparently won't land when swans are nearby.
It's difficult to trace the evolution of the crow decoy as a confidence decoy for ducks. But at some point in time, an enterprising waterfowler noticed crows feeding near his duck decoys and decided to add a few crow decoys to the mix. They worked and word spread that having a few wary-crow imitations in the bushes and along the shore could help make a set-up appear more safe and realistic. I've met several hunters who swear by their effectiveness. And because crow decoys are relatively inexpensive, they're often the confidence decoy of choice for frugal hunters.
As far as I can tell, only one U.S. company, Knutson's Decoys (800-248-9318, www.knutsondecoys.com) offers a cormorant decoy. But considering the proliferation of cormorants on waters throughout the country, it seems like a good idea.
If you have a lot of these very prolific birds in your duck hunting area, one or two of these decoys placed in key spots might be worth trying. At the very least, their large size (32" beak to tail) will add visibility to your spread. And if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ever de-lists this problem bird and allows hunting, you'll have a head start on your cormorant hunting buddies.
Specialty Duck Decoys
Specialty duck decoys unquestionably add to the enticing effect of your set, giving the whole an air of ease and security that is striking. These are usually of two types: sleepers and tip-ups.
Sleepers are decoy birds with their heads turned, as though snuggling into the feathers of the back. I have many times watched rafts of ducks in which nearly every bird was apparently fast asleep, all being in the position described. And flying ducks didn't hesitate to drop in amongst their snoozing comrades. A few sleepers mixed with your other dekes would thus have great utility in attracting birds.
Where mallards, black ducks, pintails and other dabblers are being hunted in shallow water, it is equally advisable to include several tip-up decoys, otherwise known as feeders or duck butts. Watch a flock of dabblers in a flooded field sometime. Often more than half of them are "standing on their heads." Note, too, how readily and directly passing waterfowl decoy to these feeding birds. There is no hesitation, no circling. They come in like chickens to a farmer's call.
Adding sleepers and tip-ups to your spread is just one more way to transmit an "all's clear, food's here" signal to flying ducks.
In summary, I have to tell you I have no direct evidence to prove that confidence decoys will increase the number of ducks that drop into your decoy spread. There are no scientific studies to prove or disprove their effectiveness.
Confidence decoys have been used for more than a century, however, a fact that convinces me of their positive attributes, and several times I've experienced better hunting with confidence decoys in the spread than without. At the very least, they give me more confidence in my ability to create a decoy spread that looks totally real to ducks. And that's reason enough for me to keep using them. Try them and decide for yourself. I think you'll be glad you did.
Confidence Decoy Manufacturers
Carry-Lite Hunting Decoys
479-782-8971, ext. 168
(goose, coot, heron, sandhill crane, swan, crow, sleepers, tip-ups)
(goose, coot, heron, egret, crow)
(goose, crow, sandhill crane)
Sport Plast Decoy Company
(sea gull, cormorant)