Bird's-Eye-View: Illinois River Bottoms Decoy Spread

Get above a massive decoy spread and learn why its deployed

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By Chris Jennings

Like most waterfowlers, I have an addiction to decoys. This diagnosis stems from years of hoarding duck and goose decoys in nearly every variety and species. I once bought 13 dozen used coot decoys. In my defense, it was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. And one with lasting impacts on both my hunting and storage capabilities. It is this appreciation for decoys that found me questioning a guide about his massive decoy spread on a recent media hunt with Can-Am along the Illinois River.

It was a decoy spread after my own heart, incorporating a diversity of species and years of experience hunting and watching waterfowl utilize local habitats. The spread was set in a flooded cornfield just a stone's throw from the Illinois River and less than five miles from the Mississippi, in a traditional migration corridor for ducks and geese. The Illinois River bottoms hosts a wide spectrum of waterfowl species, from green-winged teal, mallards, northern pintails, and wood ducks to decent numbers of light geese, Canadas, and a few whitefronts. After years of hunting this high-volume area, Rob Weishaupt, a Batchtown, Illinois, native and guide for Heartland Lodge, devised his amazing decoy spread.

However, large volumes of waterfowl mean tough competition for Weishaupt, as neighboring hunters vie for the same birds towering above. This means Weishaupt had to think big. "I have 30 dozen duck decoys around the pit," he said. "Plus another 16 dozen Canada and snow goose decoys and a dozen specks." While these numbers might seem staggering, Weishaupt explains that public-land hunters along this stretch of the Illinois River average 1,000 to 1,500 duck floaters.

To complete his setup, Weishaupt deployed two jerk cords, one at each end of the pit, reaching 25 to 30 yards on each side of the spread. He added a Vortex mechanical spinning contraption with two wind-driven spinners attached. He jokingly referred to the Vortex as the "nail in the coffin" for northern shovelers passing overhead. He also employed six Mojo ducks, two Higdon Flashers, and two Lucky Duck spinning-wing decoys. All these are hardwired directly into the blind—a flip of a switch brings them all to life.

From inside Weishaupt's well-brushed concrete pit blind, the decoy spread doesn't look much different from many other large spreads I'd seen before, but this mega spread has a secret. "I add a few bunches here and there in the open water, but if you watch big numbers of ducks feeding in a flooded field, many of them are tucked into the actual corn. I have over half of my decoys inside the cornstalks, and most of the spinning-wing decoys are in there as well," Weishaupt said. "From above, this makes it look like they are in the corn, feeding heavily."

Weishaupt explained that his hunting parties don't shoot many light geese during the regular season, but he adds snow goose decoys for improved visibility. "We use the snow goose decoys as more of an attention grabber, and we used to be the only guys who did that," he said. "It's much more common now."

The bird's-eye-view perspective shows what this massive spread looks like to passing ducks and geese—and it's a truly artistic display. Each of the spinning-wing decoys creates a unique flash in the sun and the decoys are dappled with the shadows of the cornstalks. Not a single element looks unnatural or staged. The lesson here is that even if you're throwing out a mega decoy spread, it's still all about the details.