The same adjectives that describe a minimalist hunter’s boat can also apply to his or her decoy spread—small, portable, and simple. In contrast to the “more is better” philosophy, minimalists opt for just a few decoys that are easy to deploy and maintain. This kind of spread rarely features battery-powered wing-spinners or swimmers. But it’s precise in its simplicity and quite effective in the places and situations where minimalists typically hunt.
“I’m definitely a minimalist,” says veteran duck hunter Richard Simms of Chattanooga, Tennessee. “I’ve never gone for the big blinds and oversize spreads. I’m a freelance, portable kind of guy. I don’t wait for ducks to come to me. Instead, I find them and hunt where they want to be. Very rarely will my partners and I hunt the same place two days in a row.”
Specifically, Simms prowls flats and backwaters along vast Tennessee River lakes in southeast Tennessee and northeast Alabama. He scouts regularly to find concentrations of ducks.
“If you hunt where ducks want to go, decoys are almost an afterthought,” Simms says. “Now, I’ll always put out a few. I think it gives working birds confidence to see other ducks where they want to be. But if I’m hunting in flooded timber or a swamp, I won’t put out more than a dozen decoys, and if I’m hunting open water, two dozen is usually plenty. Again, being in the right spot is everything.”
Simms’ decoys are old Herter’s Styrofoam blocks that are flat on the bottom. They are lightweight, and they move well in little wind. “These decoys have a lot more motion than the ones with weighted or water keels,” he says. “They’re old and beaten-up, and their colors have faded. But I still use them because of how they move. I’ve never had a time when I thought ducks flared off them because of their weathered look. When ducks are circling a hundred yards up, I don’t think they can see anything but bodies and shapes anyway.”
If the wind is slack or he’s hunting in a wind-protected spot, Simms will rig a jerk string to create ripples on the water. “Many times I’ve seen an actual physical reaction in circling birds when I’ve pulled my jerk string,” he says. “This is one thing I feel is very important with a small rig.”
Simms scatters his decoys 10-20 yards downwind or at a crosswind position from his shooting spot. He uses a mix of gadwall and mallard decoys, as these are the main species he hunts. Occasionally, if he’s hunting in a swamp with thick aquatic vegetation where gadwalls are predominant, he adds a few coot decoys to one side of his spread. “Gadwalls like to hang around coots and feed on the vegetation they pull up,” he explains, “so the coot decoys provide a natural attraction.”
Simms also sometimes sets a pair of pintail drakes on the outside of his spread. He believes the large amount of white on their heads and bodies stands out in a drab setting, and this helps catch passing ducks’ attention.
Each minimalist duck hunter will have his own ideas about decoy spreads. But once again, the common thread is small size, portability, and movement. And just as in selling real estate, location is the overriding factor in pulling ducks to small decoy spreads.
Some fancy blinds feature everything from electric lights and appliances to card rooms and flush toilets, but not those of the minimalists. Blinds built by these hunters match their “bare bones” approach. They are great for hiding hunters, but creature comforts aren’t a consideration.
This is because a minimalist’s blind may be nothing more than a shaded crease in a tree trunk or a marsh seat hidden in cattails. If a man-made blind must be used, it’s likely portable and quick to erect and take down. Such blinds can be positioned exactly where ducks are working and where hunters have easy head-on or crosswind shots.