Decoys: The Draw


photo credit to Deeks Decoys, LLC.

The warm mist of a hunters breathe reflect the christmas lights from the town in the distance and mixes with the fog of the marsh on that early morning. Frost has started to cover the plastic of the kayak he sits on as well as the decoys bobbing in the water, in the sky, the whistling wings of hardened travelers pierce the air, along with the hunters fastening breathe into a well worn call. 4 birds bank in the air as they see in the distance the shape of there brethren, the colors of there wings slice the mist as they commit to the well thought out spread of decoys in the water. 30 feet to go before they land and the wings flair, the white under the wings and the orange webbed feet extended, showing commitment to the false realization that their fellow ducks are safe and having a good time, and at that same moment, movement from the hunter breaks the morning silence with 3 booms that release a torrent of steel. Success for the hunter, but why did those birds decide to change there course, the primal course that for tens of thousands of years has driven generations of ducks? Decoys.

I am a student of the game, in this case waterfowl hunting. I have spent hours in the field watching ducks and geese, have read books, articles, talked to biologists who have spent there life to a career in trying to understand waterfowl, and those that meet every morning to drink coffee, whose eyes still twinkle at past memories and talk about a time when waterfowl hunting fed a blossoming nation. The opinions range, but the common base, you need decoys to draw distant ducks to you. There are many decoys out there on the market, so lets break them down shall we.

Roto molded plastic decoys, made the same way our beloved kayaks are made. Tough, durable and able to be painted in a realistic scheme, that many believe help draw ducks when other styles can’t. They come usually 6 to a pack for ducks, 4 to a pack for floating geese and 12 to pack for shell style goose decoys and can range from less then 50 bucks to as high as $150 or more. They can withstand a beating, can be easily cleaned and between seasons no real care is needed next to brushing the cobwebs off before the hunt. The down side is they take up space, a lot of space, so being creative is the only way to take more then 2 dozen duck and shell decoys and less then a dozen goose floaters. More on creative ways later.



From left to right: Wood duck from Tanglefree decoys, mallard from hardcore decoys, Canvasback aka King Can and female mallard from Plasti-Duk

Hand carved decoys, whether made from wood, cork, or foam, are what past generations had access to mostly. They can be very expensive up to $100 dollars or more for one of these pieces of art, but many times its the carver that will be using them. They are delicate, busting the bill, breaking the keel or ripping the head off a decoy is a real threat when trying to stow your decoys for travel. I make my own foam decoys, by using sheet foam insulation, and only use them when I am hunting from a boat or when I can safely transport them to a blind. The time to make them is a great way to make the off season pass by, but the cost is something to be desired, not my first choice for kayak hunting, and many times they never leave the comforts of the mantle.

Vinyl or soft rubber decoys, the long forgotten ancestor to the roto molded ones many use today. They are durable and in some cases several dozen can be packed away into an average backpack, or deflated to save on space. Some are very pricey with up to $20 dollars a decoy to less then $60 for a dozen, but many times you can find them at a yard sale for even cheaper! The paint schemes can be very basic and the variety in species seldom reach farther then mallard, black, pintail or teal, but for those that always have an eye out can find some other species if there lucky.
There are two that come to mind, Plasti-Duk and Deeks two decoy brands that, in my eyes where made for kayak hunting, but have been around for over 60 years! Plasti-Duks, if purchased new are expensive, hence why I buy them at yard sales, they have a valve on the decoy that allows it to inflate and deflate, making transport of up to 5 dozen a breeze. But the paint jobs of the ones that I find at yard sales many times are not up to par so having some paint brushes and paint is a must have when I buy a few and need to touch them up. Deeks decoys are special, these thin vinyl decoys that literally fold up and a dozen can be stored in your pocket! Oh and did I mention that they have been around since 1936! I have several that are over 60 years old and even though they don’t see the field as they have sentimental value, are a testament to there effectiveness.They inflate when they hit the water, thanks to a large valve on the bottom that pushes air into the body, pretty cool stuff. Both of these, in my opinion are for kayak hunting, matched together can make a spread that is not only high in numbers but by using the Plasti-Duks for jerk rigs, as they are solid movement decoys, and the Deeks, with there light weight and profile allowing them to move with the slightest ripple or breeze.



Deeks decoys seen here inflated, these decoys fold up and a dozen can fit in a jacket pocket!

photo credit to Deeks Decoys, LLC.

Does the detail of the paint job really make more ducks come to your spread? Personally, I believe that ducks can’t tell the detail as they are flying past, but they see the shape, basic coloration, and movement. They see the detail when they “lock up” and get really close and are inspecting the decoys and if they are close enough to see the detail then they are close enough for me to shoot. I am a true believer in movement in a spread, ducks have an uncanny ability to see the slightest movement, its how they avoid predators like coyotes, foxes, hawks and hunters, but it also helps to draw them in as well. I like to tell a new waterfowler that ducks especially are like that girl in class who drank 3 energy drinks at lunch; is constantly moving around, and fidgeting with there hair, thats what ducks do, move around, preen, flap there wings and stretch. So when they see decoys moving around it makes them feel safe because the only time a duck stops moving is when its sleeping or about to take off. so movement even the slightest is very important.



Hand carved decoys like this pintail can be used in the field but due to there fragile nature seldom see field time now but have a great perch on the mantle.

How many decoys do I need? Is something I hear a lot of times and it varies for each hunter. I say this because if your hunting small ponds, wood or even small creeks a dozen or two works fine, if your hunting lakes, large rivers or salt, there only limit you have is space. But more importantly you need to make sure there is motion whether from wind, chop or water movement and/or from human or mechanical means.

In part 2 we get into different means of decoy movement and things to think about when deciding on what kind of movement to use. In part 3 we will look at how to get decoys out to the hunting area as well as spreads that have worked for me. Till next time, keep your feet and powder dry!

The Decoys mentioned can be found in most stores or on there websites:

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