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Duck Decoy Spread Tips & Tactics
Waterfowl Hunting Decoy Strategies For More Successful Hunts

Doug Mauck - PHJ FieldStaff

My decoy spread is a miscellaneous collection of decoys gathered over a number of years.  My spread this past season included standard, magnum, super magnum, weighted keel, plastic, motion, and cork decoys consisting and not limited to five different species.  Species included in my spread were mallard, teal, pintail, black duck, and gadwall along with a mallard drake mojo for long range visibility and pulling power.  All aspects of my decoy spread come from several pieces of information gathered through scouting and becoming familiar with the area I am hunting.  Following are some tips that have helped me, and I hope they can help you too.

There is No Substitute for Scouting
Building a decoy spread combines imagination and experimentation.  It is one of the most enjoyable aspects of waterfowl hunting.  First things first, a hunter needs to decide what decoys should be used.  The easiest way to decide this is to do your homework and go scouting.  Putting in the "windshield time" and doing your scouting is invaluable, not just to help you find birds, but also to help you study their behavior and see how they interact with each other and the habitat around them.  This can be as simple as sitting for an hour or two at sunrise or sunset to watch birds in the area that are interested in hunting.  In most puddle duck spreads, mallards are going to be the predominant species for most areas of the country.  A mallard decoy will lure in almost any waterfowl species and will never cause harm to a spread.  However, mingling in other species, such as pintails or black ducks, will add more realism to your decoy spread by giving it more color.  Add in other species to your spread as they exist naturally.  When hunting divers, the decoy decision is relatively easy.  Put out what is most natural in your hunting area, specifically targeting the species you plan to harvest.  Often times a larger diver duck spread has greater pulling power as divers like to congregate in large groups on open waters.  If puddle ducks are common in the area, then set a few mallard decoys off to the side of your diver rig.  

Sizing Your Spread
When determining the size of your decoy spread you will need to take several factors into consideration.  What type of water will be hunted?  If hunting on a remote pothole, 6 to 15 decoys is plenty.  You do not want to crowd your hunting hole with decoys leaving no room for birds to land.  Often times a small pothole will not have many birds on it at once so to keep your spread realistic, a smaller number of decoys is the way to go.  However, I have never heard of too many decoys being the cause of flaring birds.  When hunting more open water, such as a lake or river, a larger decoy spread will often work best.  On larger bodies of water birds will congregate in larger groups due to the availability of space and food.  Typically a spread of 20 to 40 decoys is plenty when hunting private water with little pressure or competition.  

Decoying on Public Land for Waterfowl
Public waterfowl hunting areas will typically be hunted extremely hard and the birds will be put under enormous pressure.  Often times, large decoy spreads with lots of variety and movement will have the most pulling power in an over-hunted or highly pressured area.  However, a large spread is more than likely the same spread that other public land warriors will be putting out as well, so a small spread of a dozen or less decoys will look different from the rest and may entice the birds in for a close shot.  Sometimes you just have to experiment, stay curious and keep making adjustments until you get a decoy setup that pulls in the birds.  Like I said earlier…setting an effective decoy spread takes imagination and experimentation. 

Adding Motion to Your Decoys
There are many different gadgets and gizmos on the market today that will add motion to your decoy spread.  Some of them are good inventions, others…not so much.  But one thing is for sure, adding motion to your decoy spread is a must.  Anything from the original jerk strings to the new mechanical wing spinning decoys will help add movement on an unnaturally still day.  Agitated water and moving decoys will give your spread the natural look of a feeding frenzy that can pull in even the most wary duck, when the conditions are right.  Quiver magnets, jerk strings, and a "Mojo" style decoy are all a part of my decoy spread on a calm winter day.  Some hunters today are starting to steer clear of the mechanical wing spinning decoys because they are becoming so popular and are used in so many hunters' spreads that some hunters think waterfowl are starting to associate them with danger.  Another simple trick of mine that I have learned over the years is to attach some decoy string to the front of the keel and some decoy string to the back of the keel to make it so your decoys are not all facing the same way in the water.  I find that real ducks on the water don't often all face the same direction.  There is no question that having movement in a decoy spread will make it look more realistic.  

Ultimately, you want to build a decoy spread thats puts all odds in your favor.  Now that you know what decoys to use, where to use them, and have some ideas for how to set them up, experiment with your decoy spread and make it look as realistic as possible.  I believe you will begin to notice an increase in the number of birds you harvest each season if you take this advice to the field. 

Do you have ideas to share that help you harvest more ducks and geese?  Please share them in the comments box below. 


Posted 8/2/2010
Great tips Doug!

Trophy Room
Joined: 7/31/2009
Posted 8/2/2010
Good tips, can't wait for the migration!
Trophy Room
Joined: 12/23/2008
Posted 8/4/2010
I find that early season Goose spreads produce greater results when layed out on family groups. New birds are still with the parents and will be thru nuisance and early season. With no rhyme or reason, but making sure the farthest group is within killing range, I lay 6 to 9 pods of 5 to 8 decoys making sure all are feeders with each pod having a watcher. And I never worry about setting decoys up facing the wind. The only time I have seen all live geese facing into the wind is when there is a threat and they are getting ready to bolt. Geese face in every direction while feeding and so should your decoys. Hope this helps you knock a few more down!!
Trophy Room
Joined: 8/4/2010
Posted 8/6/2010
good add shootncast!
Trophy Room
Joined: 6/18/2008
Posted 10/21/2012
Love the tips. I Like how you threw in the little tips for hunting public waters and I would have to agree 100%. I have only public land to hunt and have had to compete for the birds many of times with other hunters that were on the water the same time. Since I am by no means a pro caller, I can only guess that my spreads have a huge impact on sometimes getting in alot more shooting than my competitors. This is what I do for my smaller bodies of water that I typically hunt. First of all, dont be afraid to set up off the shore line! This sometimes means that you can't sit and have to stand, but it can be well worth it when all the others are sitting on the shoreline and you are getting all the shooting in. As for my decoys, I have been known to drop down to as little as 2, but will normally use only 6, with one or two of them fitted with a torpedo on the keel for movement. This means while everbody else is using the Mojo, (not saying that they dont work), I too have motion in my spread, but a different kind of motion. If you tie your decoy line to the front of the keel, and add your torpedo, (about 10 bucks each at Cabelas), it will pull the decoy around when it hit the end of the line. I use about 6ft on my deeks with the torpedos on them, so you have to make sure you put them on the outer edge so as not to get tangled up with you still decoys.

Hope this can be usefull on your next trip to the duck blind. It seems to work pretty well for me.
Trophy Room
Joined: 1/2/2011

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