Bring Old Decoys Back to Life

Spruce up your spread now for better hunting this fall
By Will Brantley

Worn-out decoys can ruin an otherwise good waterfowl hunt. After all, when ducks and geese lock up and drop toward your spread, it's because they believe your decoys are the real thing. But if your decoys are full of water, covered in mud, or missing paint, they don't look like live ducks. Fortunately, repairing and painting your decoys is easy and inexpensive to do. And it's a great way to spend some quality time with friends and family on a hot summer day. 

Getting Started

Wade Bourne, editor-at-large of Ducks Unlimited magazine, spruces up his decoys before each new hunting season. First, he fixes any leaks. An easy way to find the source of a leak is to press down on the back of a leaky decoy while turning it from side to side. Slight pressure will cause water to run out of any cracks or shot holes. 

Once Bourne has found a leak, he enlarges the hole with a power drill and a 1/8-inch drill bit; be sure to ask an adult for help with this step. The larger holes are much easier to fill than smaller ones. 

Next, he drills a hole in each leaky decoy's tail and hangs it tail-down to drain out any remaining water. Lastly, he plugs the holes with epoxy sealant or Shoe Goo. 

Cleaning and Repainting

Decoy carver and call maker Fred Zink says that hunters should thoroughly clean their decoys before each duck season. "Wash them with water, but don't use soap," Zink advises. "Most soap contains ultraviolet brighteners that make decoys look unnatural to ducks. But it is a good idea to wipe down colorful areas like a mallard drake's head and chest with Armor All."

If your decoys still look dull after cleaning, it's time to touch up the paint. You can get paint kits with the right colors and helpful instructions from Cabela's (cabelas.com) and Mack's Prairie Wings (mackspw.com). You'll need several paintbrushes from about one-inch wide for painting larger areas down to a small, tapered artist's brush for details like the white ring on a drake mallard's neck and the black edges along wing patches. 

Rigging Cords and Weights

After a busy waterfowl season, some decoys may be missing lines and weights. Others may have lines badly knotted or tangled. Now is a good time to fix these problems as well as rig any new decoys you will add to your spread. 

Bourne has tried rigging decoys many different ways, but he prefers using tarred nylon decoy line and lead weights. He rigs two sets of decoys each season: one for shallow water and one for deep water. He uses several feet of line and 12-ounce neck-ring weights on deep-water decoys and shorter cords and five-ounce strap weights for shallow-water decoys. He uses slipknots to tie the lines to the weights and decoy keels. 

Devoting a little time to your decoys now will make your spread more effective when hunting season returns. Also, fixing up your old decoys is much cheaper than buying new ones. Best of all, it's a great way to pass time with family and friends while waiting for opening day.