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Waterfowling Lingo 101

Waterfowling has its own lexicon; here's how to learn the lingo 
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  • photo by Stephanie K. Hedberg
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By James Card

Like many outdoor sports, waterfowling has plenty of slang words, nicknames, and jargon. Some of these words are related to gear; others describe hunting techniques or the birds themselves. All of these terms make a waterfowler's vocabulary as colorful as a wood duck. Here's a beginner's guide to the language of waterfowling. 

When your hunting buddy refers to some ducks as new birds he's not talking about their age. He means the ducks are new to the area. These recent arrivals are sometimes easier to bring into the decoys than ducks that have been in the area for a while. Fresh flights of waterfowl might arrive on a migration day or a flight day, when ducks and geese are actively moving south in the autumn skies. If you are unlucky and the weather is warm and sunny it's a bluebird day, which typically isn't good for waterfowl hunting. If you're lucky, there will be a blizzard or arctic blast just to the north that creates a mass migration of waterfowl. This phenomenon is called a grand passage, and it's one of the finest spectacles in waterfowling.

Waterfowlers have many colorful names for decoys. Among the most commonly used—and oldest—nicknames for decoy is block. This term is a throwback to a time when decoys were carved by hand out of blocks of wood. A common abbreviation for decoy is deke. The Nobel Prize-winning author and avid outdoorsman Ernest Hemingway used this word in his 1950 novel Across the River and into the Trees. "I offered to put the dekes out with him," he wrote. DU's official mascot is a black Labrador retriever named Deke

A full complement of decoys is known as a spread, rig, or set. Fifty years ago, especially along the East Coast, waterfowlers often referred to a decoy spread as a stool. But you'll seldom hear this word used in this context anymore. 

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