If only it were as simple as leaving a decoy bobbing in the water, and having ducks come to you.
It’s never going to be that simple because while they are simple creatures, there are diagrams, flight patterns, and landing strategies to take into account.
If you don’t know how to set up duck decoys, the one thing I would say to break the ice on the subject is that it’s not as hard as it looks.
It’s paramount to a successful hunt, but placing decoy ducks doesn’t have to be so difficult once you do it a few times.
We’re going to talk about the importance of diagrams, and having some paperbacks or an app on you at all times so you can make sure you’re following tried-and-true methods of ensnaring ducks into your clutches.
How To Properly Spread Duck Decoys
There are a few cardinal rules you need to know about when it comes to spreading your duck decoys.
Let’s go over a list of all the things you need to know before you place a single decoy down.
#1 Keep the Water Open
You can’t possibly tell if an inbound duck is going to land on the water or if they’re going to hit the land and sit there for a while.
If you want to ensure you’re bagging more game this season, keep that water nice and open so they have a spot to land.
Don’t crowd it with decoys; I see beginners making this mistake all the time.
#2 Quantity Beats Quality (Sometimes)
It depends on what you’re hunting, but sometimes quantity can beat quality.
For crows, which you can hunt on the same day as you hunt ducks, they’re going to be attracted to large flocks that are already on the ground.
You can make a hundred crow decoys for $20, and you might even attract waterfowl in the process.
The same rule can be applied for ducks.
If you have a ton of medium-grade decoys and you spread them out, it’s going to look like a party.
Ducks will see a large, safe congregation away from predators and descend towards it.
#3 Quality Beats Quantity (Sometimes)
Just so that I can immediately contradict myself here, quality is often better than quantity, but not always.
There’s no surefire, 100% scientific way to know that your efforts will end in a successful lure.
All you can do is set it up and hope for the best.
If you’re trying to make a decent-sized spread or a smaller spread, go with quality detailed duck decoys.
#4 Ensure Your Spread is Visible
This one is big.
If you want your spread to be visible, you need to be about 25 yards away from the tree line, have it near a pond or bog area so that the sun can reflect off of the water, and position your duck decoys so that the sun hits them ever so slightly.
All of these need to be in order if you want to really attract duck to your spread.
Measure the distance between them, and whether you’re sticking to quality or quantity in your duck decoy stockade, keep them clean and maintained.
#5 Detail Matters
Get out of here with your dollar store duck decoys.
Foam decoys with minimal detail aren’t going to attract enough attention.
You want decoys that have been carved or at least made with a general shape to it, with creases, grooves, and indents that give it some dimension.
This will help your decoy cast believable shade and attract other ducks to come in.
If you already have detailed decoys, consider getting them a tune-up with some fresh paint to really showcase all the intricate work.
#6 Switch up Your Decoys
Use a goose decoy for ducks. It sounds crazy, but it works out in most scenarios.
You have to think that for hundreds of years in the United States, ducks have been hunted in a similar fashion.
This throws ducks off of their rhythm, and since geese are rarely hostile towards ducks, they feel safe landing near larger, friendly fellow birds.
Try to mix things up with your decoy collection as time goes on so you can reap the rewards. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
There isn’t an exact science to this; it’s just the way we hunters have been doing it, so if you have something constructive to add, by all means, test it out.
#7 Use Floating Decoys for Canada Geese
Canada geese, if you watch them long enough, prefer to sit on the water.
They’ll land close to the water and, even if they’re on land, they’ll hang out close to a water source if they’re out in the open.
Floating decoys are a lot easier to carry since you don’t need the poles or sticks to prop them up.
However, it’s important to have some on land, and some on the water.
How Not to Set up Your Duck Decoys (Problems and Fixes)
How are you going to know if you’re doing it right?
You won’t be running into these four seriously aggravating issues.
I’ve outlined what problems you might face, and how to correct them along the way.
#1 Ducks Are Hidden in the Spread
If the ducks are landing, but they’re too ingrained in your spread for you to take a shot, you’re putting your decoys too close together.
This could eventually lead to them flying away because they simply can’t move between all the decoys.
To fix this, simply increase the distance between your decoys.
If you aren’t sure how far you’re setting them apart now, then I would consider bringing a tape measure out with you.
It’s tedious, yes, but it’s important to know if you’re setting them too close or too far apart.
#2 Ducks Are Interested but Fly Away Anyway
It’s different from them just not being interested due to spread knotting.
Here, ducks will land near your spread, take a look, and just fly off. That’s not what anybody wants.
This could be because it looks too crowded in one area, or they’re just not able to see any movement.
One fast fix to this is splitting up your spread or putting it into a pod spread—two separate clusters of decoys instead of one big flock, which is what people commonly do.
This shows the ducks that they can land in the middle, and gives you an open area to be able to shoot them from.
#3 Knotted Spreads Send Them Packing
If ducks land too far away from the field, they could just be on their own and not looking to interact with your decoys.
That, or they could just be a bit off-put.
There’s no direct, perfect science to this, but if your spread seems good and you’ve followed all the diagrams and rules, but they’re still not biting, then you need to change something.
To fix this, get outside of your own head and try a completely different alignment.
Check if your duck decoys look too close together if they’re all facing the same way, and just move them around a bit.
If this works for you, the next time you go to place decoys, do it erratically to emulate the same results.
#4 Ducks Land Too Far Away
If ducks are just landing way too far away from your spread, it’s a border issue.
They’re not the most intelligent creatures, but they know enough to stay away from tree lines and cover to avoid a predator coming up and just getting a jump on them.
Your spread is just too close to your hideout, dugout, whatever you want to call it, or your vantage point.
A simple fix is to just move the spread further out. It’s going to increase your shooting range, which can be a bad thing, but it’s also going to make them more vigilant of your decoys.
Where Do You Place Them?
You want a spread that consists of some ducks being on land, and some on the water.
Ideally, you’re going to make your spread close to a tree line without being completely up against it.
You want a mix of visibility from other ducks, and enough distance between the decoys that it looks natural.
Ducks don’t herd together like crowded chickens in a pen.
Decoys Are Imperative
Your decoy spread is important, and having the right decoys is a must.
Depending on the area that you usually hunt, be sure to have enough decoys to fit the bill, and don’t skimp on the distance.
If you’re not keen on shooting from a close range, then you’re going to have to spend some time at the range—keep your distance so you don’t spook them, keep your decoys far enough apart, and when the time comes, don’t miss.