Sports

Lifelike decoys essential to waterfowl success

The advances in goose and duck decoy appearance, construction, technology and tactics in setting out spreads have skyrocketed over the last 25 years. Rag bodies, silhouettes and shells have greatly improved paint jobs. Some companies even use photos of real geese on their models. Several manufacturers offer as many as 20 postures for feeding, resting, alert, semi-alert and calling birds to assure realism. A few full-body honker decoys are fully flocked. It started as just flocked heads, but now the non-glare, textured flocking application truly resembles real feathers.

Perhaps the most beneficial improvement to duck and goose decoys has been the introduction of movement to imitate a flock of real birds in motion. Due to a bird’s keen, magnifying eyesight that detects the slightest movement of a hidden hunter, the cardinal rule of success has always been to wear full camo clothing head to toe and stay completely immobile until it’s time to shoot. While stillness remains crucial for gunners and dogs, adding some motion to the fake flock helps distract approaching birds a bit from hidden hunters.

Waving a flag to imitate landing waterfowl is an old tactic to get the attention of distant flocks flying past. Once birds turn for a closer look, it’s time to stow the flag and begin using calls. Run of the mill one color, cloth flags are a thing of the past, replaced with waterproof, full-size silhouettes of geese and ducks on a 3- to 4- foot handle to be waved manually.

A more elaborate version of the goose flag is actually a goose kite. Cut and colored to imitate a flying goose, the lightweight but durable material actually floats and flies on the mildest of breezes. The silhouette kite is attached to a two- to three-foot string on an extendable pole which can be held and waved when birds are spotted. Another option is to extend the pole to its full 12-foot length, stake it into the ground and allow three or four kites to float and fly continuously over the decoy spread to imitate landing geese.

Windsock decoys were the first ground-staked type of motion decoys and are still used by many hunters due to their ease of transport and deployment as well as low cost per dozen. Most wind socks feature a plastic painted or flocked head on a stake that goes through the open end of the sock and into the ground. Any breeze will inflate the sock body, which is painted to imitate a species of duck or goose and cause it to sway gently from side to side like a moving, feeding bird. Put out two or three dozen and they resemble a moving mass of live waterfowl that draw passing flights to investigate. But on calm windless days, windsocks lose their effectiveness.

The hierarchy of decoys from least to most effective, and coincidentally lowest to highest price is as follows: rags, wind spinners, windsocks, silhouettes, shells, full bodied and motorized full body or flappers. The more realistic the decoy, the fewer needed to build a spread that will hoodwink sharp-eyed waterfowl within shotgun range. Most novice gunners start with what they can afford at the low end of the decoy spectrum and with age and experience they get more involved and earn better wages, so they upgrade.

Over the last 50 years, I’ve hunted over every imaginable type of waterfowl decoy from  

car tires cut into three sections and hand painted with a cut-out plywood head on a metal stake to a flock of 50 taxidermy real goose bodies in lifelike poses. Everything works to some extent and at certain times, but for consistent, season long shooting, top of the line, full-bodied, fully flocked dekes on motion stakes offer the best option.

While life-sized, or the larger than live magnum size decoys, with realistic feather detail in soft, non-glare flocking are effective, the motion stakes are the real key to success. I prefer Green Head Gear (GHG), Pro Grade fully flocked (FFD) manufactured by Avery Outdoors. There are various body positions available in six-packs of feeder, harvester and active body positions including a six-slot transport bag as well as a set of Real motion stakes and a set of stands to use when the ground is frozen or too hard for stakes.

Each decoy has a cup size two slot receptacle inside the body that sets onto the stake or stand. One position allows the decoys to turn gently left and right with the wind, while the other holds the decoy solidly in place when the wind is too high. Half a dozen GHG Canada goose decoys cost about $250 with all the accessories, but quality isn’t cheap and these are as close to imitating a real flock as I’ve seen.

Last, but certainly not least, are the epitome of realism — battery operated, remote control motorized spinning and flapping wing decoys. A group of hunting companions arrived from downstate last fall with two of Lucky Duck Companies Lucky Flapper Canada goose decoys, and by the end of the outing I knew I had to own one myself. It really takes the place of a goose flag.  

Lucky Goose can be set to continuous or intermittent motion and a remote control not only turns it on and off but adjusts wing speed and works from as far as 100 yards away. At faster wing beat, the decoy simulates a goose landing or taking off; intermediate imitates a bird stretching; and slow looks like a preening goose. The decoy runs up to nine hours on a battery charge, with a wing span of 43 inches and the head 36 inches off the ground. Lucky Goose really stands out.

Any motion or movement in and around a waterfowl decoy set up is bound to add realism to an otherwise static set up and attract more birds to investigate. Just as important, when many of the eyes of an approaching flock are focused on moving decoys, they are not on the blinds and hunters. Early goose season is currently underway and the two month regular season close behind. Get your fake flock ready and add a bit of motion to buoy success.

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