Decoys determine waterfowling success

14 years ago

by Bill Graves

I recently spoke to members of three different groups of goose hunters who experienced very limited success during outings last week. On two outings during the same time frame, my gunning partners and I enjoyed excellent action. Late season ducks and geese have been hunted heavily and shot at frequently, the survivors become very wary and wily. Realistic calling, frequent flagging and selecting likely locations all help, but in the final analysis it’s your decoys that produce steady success.

sp-mnlyoutdrs-dcx2-all-46Contributed photograph
Even when frigid weather and snow arrive, a decoy setup of realistic looking geese works. Beaver Pierce of Blaine and Buddy Horr of Dedham show off a limit of honkers taken during a 30-minute hunt last November.

During September’s native goose season and even early in the regular season, birds are more gullible and easier to decoy into shotgun range. Throughout November however, and until waterfowl season ends in early December, ducks and geese become far more elusive. It requires better decoy set-ups and more realistic looking decoys to coax flocks close to hiding hunters. Simple decoy styles such as silhouettes, rags and shells become far less effective as autumn progresses.

Despite ever increasing numbers of geese, thanks to migrating flights arriving from Canada, and colder weather requiring the big honkers to spend more time feeding afield, steady gunning success is unlikely. These new birds stopping over to feed for a few weeks have been hunted and shot at during their entire trip down the flyway and the survivors have gotten smarter.

Canada geese already posses eyesight 10 times better than a human, and older birds who lead the flocks have been exposed to all kinds of decoys tricks and ploys, so it takes a special setup to improve a sportsman’s odds. One way to do this is to simply put out a vast spread of fake waterfowl. Some outfitters use two to five hundred decoys! Most of us can neither afford the money or time to set up such a rig, so we must go the route of fewer but more realistic dekes.

It should come as no surprise to most outdoorsmen that quality equipment costs more money, but be it furniture, food, electronics or vehicles, that’s usually the case. The good news is that three or four dozen top of the line decoys will outperform three times as many bargain basement brands. For my money, full-body, life-size or magnum (larger than real birds) decoys are the way to go. If the faux fowl have flocking, a thin exterior application of soft fuzzy material that adds vibrant color and feather detail while preventing glare, it’s a huge plus.

Greenhead Gear (GHG), a subsidiary of Avery Outdoors, one of the nation’s best known manufacturers of a wide line of waterfowling gear was my choice for new decoys last year. I selected GHG’s FFD elite goose and duck decoys, and not only do these decoys offer magnum, fully-flocked heads and bodies, each half dozen comes with a set of stakes and stands that allow each bird to move once it’s set out. With only the mildest of breezes each individual decoy turns, bobs, swivels, and sways as a real honker would while feeding, and the entire flock comes to life.

Motion stakes are used when the ground is soft enough to push the lightweight rod into position, but when the ground freezes the sturdy, stable stands may be used to position dekes instead. Each GHG decoys houses a two-way receptacle, one opening promotes motion, the second narrow lock-in opening keeps the decoy motionless when winds are too gusty for realistic movement. Some companies sell expensive electronic motion bases but the Avery innovation stakes and stands are simple, effective, and cheap.  

Movement and lifelike painting and flocking are the key to fooling even the most wary waterfowl at this time of year. Don’t give up on November honker hunting, just change tactics and the realism of your decoy spread.

Bigfoot and Hardcore brands of full body dekes work well, but Greenhead Gears’ fully-flocked elite are the cream of the crop. Well over a dozen alert, semi-alert, feeder, resting and sentry poses are available and each half-dozen comes with a sturdy storage and field-carry bag. Check these great GHG goose and duck decoys out in your Cabelas or Bass Pro Catalogs or visit them on-line at

Geese are still arriving and stopping to feed and fatten on their migration route. Until the ground freezes solid or more than a foot of snow arrives to force the honkers south, hunting will remain productive, – as long as your decoys look alive!