Deciding On Decoys

Not what you’re looking for? Find more articles on hunting birds!

Think about how, when and where you’ll use your decoys before you buy

As a waterfowl hunter, I love decoys and can’t ever seem to have enough of them. It seems every year I add more decoys to my spread. My collection includes both duck and goose decoys and consists of full bodies, shells, windsocks, silhouettes and floaters. While each variety of decoys will attract and lure birds, there are times, locations and conditions where one decoy type is better suited than the others.


Full-body decoys

Full-body decoys are the most realistic-looking decoys available. They are life-sized replicas of ducks and geese. Many models are available with motion stakes that allow the decoy to move in even the slightest breeze, while having limited motion in high winds. Due to their realism, incoming birds of all species decoy very well to this style of decoy and, because of this, hunters running full-body decoy spreads can usually get by with smaller decoy spreads compared to when using other styles of decoys. For example, Canada geese and ducks can typically be hunted with spreads of full-body decoys consisting of two to eight dozen decoys, while a spread of about 25 dozen decoys will work wonders on snow geese.

Given the ability to use smaller-sized spreads, hunters using full-body decoys can set up and take down their spreads in short order. This can result in a little extra sleep in the mornings, getting to a restaurant for breakfast before the menu changes to lunch or being able to quickly get out of a field after a shoot so that birds can continue to utilize the field and a second hunt can take place in the same location.

Full-body decoys can be used in field situations and on shoreline areas. Some hunters even put them in shallow water. In addition, when rigged with a motion stake and a pole submerged in the water, so that the belly of the decoy is just above the water line, they can also be used in deeper water spreads to give the spread added motion.

Although full-body decoys have hollow bodies and aren’t overly heavy, they are very bulky, which can make transporting them a difficult task. Three or four dozen full-body decoys will generally fill the box of a half-ton truck, so most hunters running a spread of full-body decoys will use an enclosed trailer to transport the decoys to and from the field.

On dry days when you can pull right into the field to hunt, pulling a trailer with full-body decoys is not a problem. However, on days when fields are muddy or snow covered, pulling a trailer into the field is often a recipe for disaster. Even with a four-wheel-drive truck pulling the trailer, there is a high probability of getting stuck.

So, when a landowner doesn’t want me to drive onto his property to hunt or when road and field conditions are too muddy or snow covered to risk pulling my trailer, I generally leave my trailer of full-body decoys at home and deploy another style.


Shell decoys

Shell decoys are molded to represent the back and sides of a duck or goose. Because these decoys don’t have bellies and legs and have removable heads, they are stackable. A couple dozen decoys and heads will easily fit into a decoy bag and several bags of decoys will easily fit into the box of a truck.

This style of decoy is very versatile and they can be set up in a number of applications. The most common use of shell decoys is in field sets. However, they can also be set up on shoreline areas or on ice adjacent to open water. Shell decoys are also quite realistic and it takes just a slightly higher number of shell decoys, as opposed to full-body decoys, to have a successful hunt.

Today, the majority of shell decoys come with motion stakes. However, if they don’t or if you have older models without motion stakes, you can buy motion stakes separately or make some by welding a washer a centimetre down from the top of a small diametre metal rod. If the decoys don’t have a hole for inserting a motion stake, find the balancing point of the shell decoys by balancing them from the inside on an arrow or metal rod and then drill a small hole into the back of the decoy so that they can be set up on a motion stake.

One of my favourite times to use shell decoys is late in the season when geese will land in a feeding field and then nestle down to either feed or rest. When this happens, I like to set up a spread of shell decoys and set the majority of them directly on the ground without any motion stakes. In addition, I will also try to set up a group or two of decoys just off to the side of my landing zone, with their heads in a sleeping position.


Silhouette decoys

Silhouette decoys are flat decoys that use wooden or metal stakes to hold them upright. Over the years, silhouette decoys have really changed. In the beginning, many were simply homemade bird-shaped decoys cut out of plywood or cardboard and painted black. Over time, decoy companies have refined the process so that these decoys are now digitally enhanced detailed images of live geese in a variety of poses. In early years, silhouettes got a bad reputation as they would glare in the sun and flutter in the wind. Thankfully, most of today’s models are now made to eliminate these problems.

Since silhouette decoys are only two dimensional, they will disappear from sight as ducks and geese fly directly over top of them. At first thought, this concept is troubling as it would seem the entire decoy spread could disappear and then reappear as the birds fly over, which could spook them. To overcome this possibility, it is best to spread out the decoys and set them up in multiple directions. Doing so will actually create the illusion of movement and ensure birds can see decoys as they circle and fly over different portions of the spread. In order to have a good-sized visible spread, hunters need to up the number of silhouettes used. Over time I have discovered that it takes about three to four dozen silhouettes to have the same effect and drawing power as one dozen full bodies, as I will set up my silhouettes in groups of three and four pointing in different directions so that incoming birds can see some decoys from every angle.

While silhouettes will work with all species of birds, they tend to work better for some species than others. They are ideal for honkers, as these birds typically approach the decoys on a low angle and generally circle wide. As for snow geese, silhouettes work well to catch their attention but often lose effectiveness when the geese come in high directly over the decoys, just before they tornado into the landing zone.

The beauty of silhouette decoys is that they are very lightweight and easy to transport, as they don’t take up much room. This is ideal for getting to and from the hunting location – numerous decoys and blinds can easily be transported in a smaller SUV. They are also invaluable when conditions warrant having to walk an entire spread of decoys in and out of a field


Windsock decoys

Windsock decoys are bag-style decoys that catch the wind and flutter and bounce. Early models were simply white or black bags with no heads. Today’s modern versions are painted with the realistic colour schemes of ducks and geese and have a variation of head poses. Windsock decoys are also available with wings, to represent birds landing in the spread.

Early models depended solely on the wind. If there was no wind, the decoys would hang limply on their stakes and not appear overly natural. If there was too much wind, the decoys flap erratically. Modern models now have spines or arms that open up within the windsock bag to keep it open and look like a bird, even if there is no wind, and stabilize the decoys to appear natural in all but gale-force winds.

Windsock decoys are inexpensive. As a result, they are often used in situations where 1,200 to 1,500 decoys are required, such as when hunting snow geese or when running traffic on migrating lesser Canada geese. They also work very well when hunting ducks over dry fields.

Of all the decoys, windsocks are the least realistic at first glance. However, when they get moving in the wind, they take on a very natural appearance and look like a mass of hungry birds aggressively feeding. As a result, they are great for catching the attention of distant birds and drawing them closer. On the downside, late season and heavily hunted birds may not totally finish into a spread of windsocks. To overcome this, hunters can move their blinds downwind of the set and intercept the birds as they approach.


Floating decoys

When hunting over water, floating decoys are a must. They are designed to float on the water and can be rigged to stay in place, even in deep water or heavy winds. They come in a variety of species and poses to make a spread look natural and relaxed. In a pinch, these decoys can also be used in the field, but they will have limited visibility to incoming birds, as they will be on the ground and not on stakes.

The next time you head afield or to the local sporting goods store to pick up some decoys, take a few minutes to think about how, when and where the decoys will be used. When you do, it will make the decision on which decoys to go with much easier.



Mixing Decoys

Hunters can easily mix various styles of decoys. In some cases it will be to simply add numbers to the spread, and in other instances it can be to add a specific appearance to the spread. A few windsocks mixed among a spread of full bodies or shells can really help bring the spread to life. In a similar fashion, a few dozen full-body decoys deployed downwind of the windsocks and in front of the blinds can help keep late-season birds from fading off the spread. Silhouette decoys are a quick and lightweight way to add numbers of decoys to a smaller decoy spread of full bodies or shells.

Join us on Facebook!

Do you like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Western Sportsman print edition today!

Find more articles on hunting birds!

This entry was posted in Bird, Gear, Hunting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.