Decoy Patterns That Work

By: Jim Newcomb


When doing any type of waterfowl hunting you should pay very close attention to your decoy spreads. There are several patterns one can use to set your decoy, whether it is on water or land. If you are hunting south of the Canadian border, you can expect your birds to be decoy educated.

I hunt in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas. By the time the fowl have reached me they will have seen every decoy spread imaginable, heard every call a duck call will make and learned to pick up movement on the ground quite well.

Thatís what makes this sport so exciting. The challenge those waterfowl present will get your adrenalin pumping fast. All is not lost. We do have a chance to limit out. This isnít as easy as quail hunting where I let my dog loose in the field and he goes and finds the birds for me to shoot, nope, no way. First that duck has to be convinced you arenít even there, good concealment on your part. Second your decoys have to convince the waterfowl that it is safe to land and there is something there for them, (food).

Thus, the sculpture of a perfect decoy spread. I have pulled ducks down with ten dozen decoys and also pulled them in with a single decoy. The weather conditions and environment are going to dictate what is right for the conditions. Hunting flooded timbers or open waters will have a lot to do with your decoy spread. Small ponds are going to take fewer decoys than a large body of water. You can get by with a dozen decoys on a small body of water. If you are hunting timber you will want to find an open body of water and spread your decoys around that opening to create a landing zone right in front of you. I use three dozen in this case. Ducks are going to react differently in a sunny day than they do in a constant down pour. You need to be flexible and change-up your spread if the conditions change during the day. The classic U or J shaped decoy patterns are the most popular. If you choose these patterns, try and set your blind up at the closed end of the U or the hook of the J. Ringnecks, Buffleheads, and Teal will often land and swim into you spread. Be aware how you are presenting your decoys. I have seen so many people get to a great spot and just start chunking decoys in the water without any thought of presentation. The dekes look totally unnatural. These goons canít figure out why all the birds are flaring away from their decoys. Just because ducks sees your decoys does not mean they will automatically land in them. Remember, you have to give them a reason to land. Mix your decoys types up. I have Mallards, Gadwalls, Pintails, Ringnecks and Teals in my spreads. It works out really well. I put the Pintails and a Mallard decoy I spray painted black in the most visible location for incoming flocks to see. The white on the Pintail and the black duck are much more visible than the other decoys. I do my best to get incoming birds thinking about landing in my spread as soon as possible.

You can start out in the morning using all the decoys in your bags. If you are not getting any action, and birds are flaring, then itís time to change the dekes around. If the birds are doing two or three pass bys and flaring, then something is wrong. Make sure you havenít had a decoy float off or one upside down. Pull some dekes out of the water or field, change the pattern. The ducks are seeing something they donít like and youíve got to determine what that is and correct it. If a decoy does not sit right in the water, get rid of it. Your spread has got to look as natural as possible.

I donít think any new duck hunter needs to be trying to operate a jerk line or motorized decoy until after their first full season. Stick to the basics during that first year. Get good at the basic decoy patterns before you try a jerk line or motorized decoy. Add jerk lines and other special decoys after you get comfortable with your decoy spreads.

A good decoy spread will get you quite a ways.

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