Decoy care is something that’s seriously undervalued.
Modern-day duck decoys are rather inexpensive to manufacture and buy, so why wouldn’t you just grab new ones when your decoys start to get damaged?
Because duck hunting isn’t a sport that you can profit from.
You’re already spending money on shells and gear, so why would you want to increase that expense?
Apart from that, if you take care of your duck decoys, they’ll continue to fool incoming ducks.
A tattered, damaged duck decoy might stick out to them.
They might think that while your decoy isn’t moving, and it looks tattered, that it’s already been killed.
Birds aren’t the smartest, but as prey, their first instinct is to scout out safe areas to land.
What is an Average Life Expectancy for Hunting Decoys?
That all depends on the material of your duck decoy.
Let’s go over the three main types of body materials, and break down how long each will last.
The best, but also the most expensive. Wooden decoys have been made for hundreds of years, and there are still wooden decoys being used today.
We can track some collectibles, which still look to be in fantastic condition, from the 1800s.
These don’t require weights or lines most of the time, but they do require the most maintenance.
You want to make sure the paint is up to date, the wood is sealed, and do a restoration every five hunting seasons or so. Take care of these, and they’ll outlast you.
While these aren’t the best, they’re among the cheapest, and they do work quite well.
Plastic body duck decoys can either come painted, or the plastic will be colored during manufacturing.
With the latter option, once these get damaged, your restorative paint job is going to show quite a bit.
Plastic duck decoys can last you for a decade, but you’re definitely going to notice wear and tear on them as time goes on.
If you’re diligent, they could last longer, just don’t leave them in direct sunlight for too long if you can avoid it.
Plastic duck decoys will diminish in UV light since it breaks down plastic, and you will notice discoloration after a few years.
These are basically filler decoys. Most people aren’t using these long-term, and if they are, they’re buying new ones every other season.
I would say that even if you take care of your foam decoys, they’re going to last for maybe, maybe three years tops.
That’s nothing compared to wood, and plastic even has a better track record than that.
Most of the issues that you’re going to run into will be paint related.
If your foam decoys are punctured, try using a filler compound and repainting it if you want to hold onto them.
How to Take Care of Your Decoys
From cleaning to the storage, there are a few things we need to discuss.
It’s important to take care of your decoys, but I’m going to explain why.
Cleaning your decoys and maintaining them isn’t that difficult, it can just be tedious at times.
Properly Clean Your Decoys
You want your decoys to be nice and clean before you head out on your first hunt of the season.
This ensures they’ll reflect sunlight well (which helps attract ducks), and shine out there in the field.
It’s also a chance for you to inspect any damages and make repairs as necessary.
I’m going to tell you right now that the only thing you should use is water.
Don’t use soap, don’t use alcohol pads; only use water. Many soaps, which are classified as synthetic detergents, are ultraviolet brighteners.
They mess with the coloration of your duck decoys, which could be very off-putting to inbound ducks.
Cotton cloth and warm water are all you need.
Pay attention while wiping down your decoys: you might spot divots, chips in the paint, or discoloration from sun bleaching.
This is a good time to get online or head to a hobby shop and get some decoy paint to fix this up.
While your decoys don’t need to be perfect when you head out, they should at the very least be freshly painted to help attract the attention of your prey.
How to Store Your Decoys
At home, you need to store your decoys in a safe spot.
You’ll hear me talk a lot about UV light in this post, but it’s one of the most harmful things that your decoy is going to run into.
It’s already being exposed to tons of UV light while out on the field, so there’s no need to expose it to more at home.
Do not store your decoys in direct sunlight.
It’s nice to have a place to put them indoors if you want them to act like collectible decoys in the meantime, but they should be away from windows.
For a quick mental reference regarding what UV light can do to plastic (which could be found in the paint on your decoy as well as the body), think of those plastic lawn chairs that were left out in the yard without protection.
Remember how sun-bleached and discolored they got?
Store your decoys on a shelf, or in plastic trunks, but ensure they’re in a temperature-controlled and humidity-controlled environment.
Keep them out of direct sunlight, and you should be okay.
Where to Store Them
It depends on what material your decoys are made out of, but generally, you want to store them somewhere up high where moisture isn’t going to be an issue.
I would store them in your house, not in a shed or garage with no air conditioning control.
Now I will say that plastic and foam decoys, while they’re not that good, are going to withstand a lot more damage than wooden decoys.
They’re not as nice to use and they’re subject to high winds, but they aren’t affected by as many things.
With wooden decoys, you do not want moisture to reach more than about 11% in the wood of your decoy.
Even if your paint had a sealing layer put beneath it, time spent in the water and out in the outdoors can diminish that. Moisture can seep in, leading the wood to expand.
That doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but if the wood expands, it can cause the decoy to split, crack, or even rot depending on how much moisture finds its way inside.
Store your decoys in temperatures between 56° F and 72° F.
If you live in Florida or other southern states where it gets hot and humid, you’ll want the room where you store them to also have a dehumidifier.
Don’t set it to the most extreme options, just get a nice, comfortable feel about the room.
Using your decoys is how you put wear and tear on them, but when they’re not in use, there’s no reason to put them in environments that can cause further damage.
The goal is to get them to last for as long as possible.
Safe Transit for Your Decoys
Your decoys need to retain some good detail if they’re going to work effectively.
Scuffed up or majorly damaged decoys are going to look dopey, and while it might trick a few ducks, your spread is going to look weak and not reflect light the way that it’s supposed to.
You want to travel with your decoys in a safe manner, and I don’t blame you.
You can find large plastic trunks at Walmart for about forty bucks, and as long as you line the bottom with some bubble wrap (and preferably the sides), you can use that to transport about dozen-or-so decoys to and from the field.
Is this the most travel-efficient method?
No, it’s not, but it’s going to prevent harsh damage and divots in your decoys.
If you’re using foam or light plastic decoys (because they do save you a pretty penny), they’re less likely to get scratched up, but when they do, it looks ten times worse than a scratch on wood.
Keep your decoys in a safe spot while traveling.
You can store these plastic trunks in your hideout with you if you’d like.
Either that, or you can bring a camouflage net and throw it over the trunk(s) to keep everything out of sight, and out of mind.
It’s unlikely that ducks are going to be attracted to it; everything will just blend in, and be right next to you when it’s time to pack up your decoys at the end of the hunt.
Decoy Preservation Tips
Resealing Your Decoys
Wooden decoys aren’t just floating in the water without any protection.
That would be foolish. They’re sealed to prevent water from soaking into the wood and causing tons of damage.
However, this wears down after some time. You need a quality, waterproof wood sealer. I wouldn’t recommend using polyurethane on the bottom.
Swap Them Out on Very Bright Days (UV Damage Reduction)
On an ultra-bright day without a cloud in sight, you’re going to see a ton of ducks in the air.
But you’re also going to see that your decoys will start to get worn out. There’s no real way to effectively restore your decoys after UV ray damage.
UV light actually breaks down the plastics found in a lot of paint or the plastic body of your budget decoys.
So how do you prevent this from being a problem?
You’ve just got to switch your decoys out in the middle of a hunt. I’m not going to recommend that you change your entire hunting plan.
You should still hunt for as long as you were planning, just switch out your decoys in the middle.
It’s a good way to preserve your decoy without having to go completely nuts and reseal it just because it caught some sun.
Regularly Check Colors and Finish
The detail is important. If your decoys aren’t detailed enough, they’re not going to attract ducks.
A good coat of paint will include solid transitions between colors, for a more natural look, as well as shading and silhouette features so that when light shines on your decoys, it reflects naturally.
When you refinish your decoys (especially if they’re wooden), you want to ensure that you have the right paint for the job.
There’s a certain amount of shine that’s supposed to come off of your decoys because it emulates sunlight reflecting off of the oil in duck feathers.
This can also help give a better reflection off of the water, which increases the visibility of your decoy spread.
Can Blood Permanently Damage my Decoys?
Occasionally, the splatter from a gunshot will get blood on your decoys.
Even if they’re wood, the blood should wipe off right away.
I would carry around a cotton rag to wipe it down, but if you bag your decoys up and wait until you get home to hose them off, then that’s okay as well.
Can You Make Your Own Decoys?
Do you want to DIY your own decoys?
That’s awesome. I say go for it if it’s something you’re passionate about.
We’re all here for the love of the hunt, but if you find that you want to continue devoting some time to duck hunting during the off-season, this is a good way to do it.
Making your own decoys requires a bit of know-how with woodworking, whittling, and carving, and it requires a ton of your time.
I would say that it’s a good hobby, but don’t do it expecting to make a return.
It’s basically impossible to make a living as a decoy maker nowadays since everything is mostly mass-produced.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it and test them out yourself.
If you’re going to use them, the painting is definitely going to be a difficult part.
I would look at restoration kits to get the right paint colors for most duck breeds and pay special attention to the way the paint will shine at the end.
Be sure to seal your wood, and you should do fine.
Does the Heat Damage my Decoys?
No, the heat alone won’t damage your decoys.
Humidity and UV rays are basically all you need to worry about, depending on what type of decoy you have.
It should be noted that when it’s hot out, it’s usually cloudless, and you’re going to have more direct sunlight right on your decoys.
It’s good for the hunt, just not good for maintenance purposes.
If I Take Care of my Decoys, Can I Resell Them?
You sure can.
Plenty of people will sell their decoys after a few years and upgrade to new ones if it’s something that you enjoy investing in.
Many hunters will use the same decoy designs for about three years, sell them, and use the money earned from that sale (as well as a bit of their own) to get a bigger flock of decoys with a different design.
You’re going to have a better time selling stationary decoys over floaters.
Stationary decoys generally see less wear and tear, but once you run into problems with floaters, they can be rendered useless.
When is the Best Time to Buy Duck Decoys?
During the off-season.
That’s ambiguous because it completely depends on what you’re hunting.
Look up the local hunting dates for snow geese, wood ducks, or whatever it is that you’re hunting, and try to find the farthest date from that season.
Look for local retailers or hunting stores to find excellent deals. Online deals can vary in these situations.
Most online retailers aren’t going to have special deals depending on the time of year, because they sell to every region in the United States at once—they don’t have to market to hunters like us.
That’s where the local shops come in.
They have to keep the lights on, so 10% to 15% off of decoys is enough to entice local hunters to come in and refresh their stock for next season.
If you hunt more than just duck, you should map out specific times every year to shop for decoys depending on what you hunt.
This will save you a few bucks here and there.
Start With the Right Decoy, Take Care of Them Well
Your decoys are basically your number one piece of gear.
Your weapon matters, your camo matters, but without decoys you significantly lower your chance of any waterfowl coming to your hunting spot.
Brand new, modern-made duck decoys might not be the most expensive things in the world, but if you take care of them, it counts as an investment—not a purchase.
Follow the tips here to maintain them throughout the rest of your hunting career, and they won’t let you down.