Setting Duck Decoys

by Woodsbum

Every year a large group of people get dressed up in warm clothes, grab their shotguns, and trudge through the marshes of America to try their hand at duck hunting. The humorous part of this ongoing battle against the “fowl” elements is the amateurish attempts some of these people make at luring in their prey. Every weekend I set my decoys and sit there while ducks come into my spread while the less skilled hunters around me get irritated and start shooting in my direction after they realize that their decoys are doing nothing. It never seems to fail. It is not a joke when I say that I have had hunters get annoyed with their own inadequacies and start shooting towards the ducks coming into my decoys from distances over 150 yards.

One of the most dangerous and mind blowing incidents occurred when a group of hunters moved to a point directly across a slough from me. These guys were no more than 50 yards away and kept shooting right over my head. One even shot into the middle of my decoys. When I finally just got up and started picking up my gear they actually yelled at me and were upset that I was leaving.

Not everyone has this type of situation arise when they are out duck hunting, but there are many people that do. What I don’t understand, above and beyond the whole safety factor, is why they don’t just learn to set their own decoys and practice blowing more than a mallard call. Not all ducks are mallards or sound like mallards. There are other calls out there.

First thing you need to remember when you are setting up your decoys: If they appear to be in a pattern, you set them up incorrectly. Ducks Unlimited has many articles about setting duck decoys and arranging them in a proper pattern. Ducks tend only fly in formation, sometimes. You don’t see them floating around a like as if they were attempting to look like a US Navy attack formation. It doesn’t happen.

Second thing to remember is that ducks like to remain a bit segregated. You usually don’t find different species of ducks floating around in clumps with other species. Although you might find several different species floating around the same area of a pond, you won’t normally find widgeon, mallard, teal, bufflehead, and canvasback ducks all clumped into a large group. They will group together, but separate.

Third is the fact that not all ducks sound like a $12 mallard call. Go buy a few more calls and learn to blow them. The $20 Duck Commander teal call allows you to make sounds like a teal, widgeon and pintail all with that same call. Also note that not all calls are made the same. Your Duck Commander Mule might sound ok, but with proper practice and some skill a Zink ATM Green Machine will sound better.

Here are two pictures of one morning spread. I had to modify things a bit because of the current and depth of the water out towards the middle. If you notice I clustered the decoys together into both the “feeding” and the “chilling” areas. There is also a lone duck up near the grass and a couple off the picture to the left also near the grass. I did the because it was a really cold morning and I had seen groups of ducks near to shore while driving out. The second picture is the other group that I clustered off to the right. Just so you know, this hunting trip bagged me 5 ducks on a really slow morning.

Left side of spread, a few off camera farther left

Left side of spread, a few off camera farther left

Right side of spread, a few in the grass off camera to right

Right side of spread, a few in the grass off camera to right

Here is a great article from Ducks Unlimited about setting duck decoys. If you notice, they also talked about keeping your decoys from looking too uniform or like they are in a pattern of any sort.

So the long story has come to this:

  1. Don’t bunch up all your decoys into a small group.
  2. Don’t lay your decoys out as if they are in formation.
  3. Don’t put your decoys into a “horseshoe” pattern because it will look like a pattern.
  4. Do make sure your different species are segregated and in a group that looks like a bunch of ducks.
  5. Do make sure you have several duck calls for the different species duck decoys you have.
  6. Do make sure you know how to properly use your decoys.
  7. Do have fun.

Good luck everyone and happy hunting.

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