Duck Decoy Basics
A good set of duck decoys is a must-have item for any waterfowl hunter.
Yet, with the vast assortment of decoys and brands available to hunters, it can be overwhelming to know exactly where to begin.
If you’re a novice hunter who is about to purchase waterfowl equipment, a dozen floating mallard decoys are usually enough to begin hunting Colorado’s smaller sloughs, marshes and rivers.
Creating a Natural Decoy Spread
Mallards are the most common ducks in Colorado, so building your decoy spread with a combination of mallard drakes and hens is a great foundation. To make your spread appear more natural, you can mix some “feeders” and “sleepers” with your standard floating decoys. You can continue to add additional species and different sizes of decoys as your budget allows.
Throwing a few floating goose decoys into the mix is also an extremely effective way to lure ducks within shooting range. Ducks respond well to goose decoys. For the best results, place your goose decoys together and a few yards away from your duck decoys.
Many hunters will also add a couple black duck decoys to their spread. Black decoys are extremely visible to passing ducks, particularly on overcast days. These decoys can also imitate coots and other waterfowl, which can make your spread more varied and give ducks the confidence they need to land. You can purchase black decoys or you can create your own by simply painting a couple of hen mallard decoys with flat-black spray paint.
It’s important to add weight to your decoys to keep them in place on windy days or when hunting in moderate current. The amount of weight that you need to add will vary based on the water conditions and size/weight of your decoys. Because mallards and other puddler ducks prefer shallow water, most of your hunting will be in waist-deep water or less.
A Texas-Rig setup, consisting of tangle-free line and lead weights, is ideal to keep decoys securely in place. A 5 to 6 foot tangle-free cord is sufficient for most hunting locations and provides enough slack so floating decoys can move naturally in current and on windy days.
If your budget allows, you can improve your setup dramatically by adding a couple of motion decoys to your spread. These battery-operated decoys flap, quiver, shake and make waves, just like real ducks. There are a wide variety of motion decoys available, so it’s important to do some research to see which models fit your budget and hunting style.
Adding Motion to Your Spread
Motion decoys are especially effective on calm days when your stationary decoys can look stagnant and unnatural. Ducks like to see activity on the water before they decide to land. Motion decoys will literally bring your spread to life. Adding some motion also helps to draw a duck’s attention toward your decoys and away from your dog and blind.
One of the most popular motion decoys is the Spinning Wing. Simulating a duck in flight, the spinning wing decoy took the hunting world by storm when it first debuted in the late 1990s. Because of its effectiveness, nearly every serious waterfowler owned one.
However, due to its mass popularity, some hunters now view spinning-wing decoys as more of a liability than an asset. In some ways, the spinning wing may have become a victim of its own success. Some hunters now believe that ducks have become conditioned to avoid motion-wing decoys altogether.
Despite the naysayers, there are still plenty of hunters out there who swear by the spinning wing’s effectiveness. If you decide to use a spinning wing decoy, make sure it comes with a remote control so you can turn the decoy off once ducks are close. While the spinning wing is highly visible and effective at attracting ducks from long distances, the non-stop spinning may cause ducks to flare at close range.
One of the most unique motion decoys to hit the market in recent years is made by Colorado-based Duck Creek Decoy Works. Duck Creek’s innovative “Flashback Decoy” imitates a feeding mallard drake. The Flashback’s action is so realistic that ducks will literally land and sit next to the decoy. The Flashback’s tipping motion is also highly visible to passing ducks and creates aggressive ripples on the water — just like a real mallard. As an added bonus, the decoy’s repetitive motion can help keep water from icing over on cold days.
Motion decoys that imitate feeding ducks are especially effective in late season when ducks have become warier of decoys and hunters. A feeding duck shows that there’s both a food source and safety — two things all ducks need to survive migration.
For motion decoys on the cheap, a simple DIY “jerk rig” is a good option for adding some movement to your decoy spread. There are a variety of different types and designs of DIY jerk-rigs online, most of which consist of a bungee cord, weights and tangle-free lines or cords. A jerk-rig allows you to move your decoys manually while you remain concealed in your blind.
Regardless of which brands and designs you choose, a good set of decoys will help you bag more ducks and ensure that your time in the field is more enjoyable and productive.
Keep in mind, Craigslist is a great place to find used decoys at bargain prices. If you decide to buy used, make sure the decoys are not cracked or damaged. Sometimes decoys get hit with errant shot and they will take in water. If necessary, you can purchase some touch-up paint if the decoys need a minor makeover.
Additional waterfowl hunting resources:
- Colorado Small Game and Waterfowl Brochure
- Fowl Weather Duck Hunt
- Tips For Hunting Ducks on Colorado’s Public Lands
- Your Colorado Waterfowl Hunting Resource Guide
- A (Goose) Hunter’s Dozen
Blog post and video by Jerry Neal. Neal is the senior videographer and a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.