The Star-Herald

A different spin on waterfowl hunting

“Wear camo from head to toe and stay still” — that’s the exact quote of advice I got before my first duck hunt several decades ago. It’s just as basic and dependable all these years later. Ducks and geese have eyes located on the sides of their heads, giving a far wider field of vision, and a duck’s eyesight is three times better than a human’s, while geese have seven times better eyesight than a hunter. Successful waterfowling requires all the subterfuge available to enjoy regular success.

Despite improvements on decoys, portable blinds, calls, ammunition and shotguns, the extraordinary vision, extreme awareness, and centuries of hereditary wariness and vigilance still give the wild fowl an upper hand. There are a few new techniques and tactics that help improve gunning success however, and they all center around motion. The trick is to keep yourself and other hunters very quiet and still while diverting the birds attention away from the blind with some type of non-frightening, realistic movement.

Greg Palm and Garrett Cushman paddle back to their shore blind after setting up a pair of motion decoys among the floaters. One is a spinning wing model and the lower front decoy moves its wing and feet to make ripples on a calm day.
(Courtesy of Bill Graves)

My first successful attempt at this was using a flag to simulate the flapping wings of landing waterfowl to attract distant flocks to think other birds had found food and to come and investigate. I built my own flag from an 18-by-18 piece of black cloth stapled to a 3-foot length of a sturdy half-inch dowel rod. Waving it in a figure-8 pattern worked on sea ducks, puddle ducks and geese. Once the approaching waterfowl got close enough to see the decoys, I’d stop waving unless they began to veer away.

There are now dozens of sizes, shapes and styles of waterfowl flags commercially manufactured. Some even imitate specific species as photographed stencils on cloth or weather-resistant plastic. A few are attached by a length of monofilament to a long pole that can be held by hand or stuck in the ground, allowing even the lightest breeze to float and sail the bird-shaped flag like a kite to imitate a hovering or landing duck or goose. There are many options, but I have to tell you my $3 cloth and dowel flag still works after all these years.

Perhaps the greatest technological advancement in motion decoys has been the battery-operated, full-size, spinning-wing duck decoy. Suspended on a thin pole that’s been pushed into the pond or lake bottom or into the dirt for field hunting, it truly looks like a wing-flapping mallard about to settle down to feed. Newer models even have remote control fobs like cars that allow on, off, and speed control from a distant blind or boat.

The lightweight metal wings are light and dark colored on opposite sides so when they spin it truly looks like flapping wings as they oscillate. Costing between one to two hundred bucks, depending on features, these rechargeable spinning decoys fool even the smartest ducks. There’s a Canada goose model, “Lucky Goose,” that actually flaps at variable speeds. It can look like a bird landing, taking off or just preening. These are so effective a couple of states have banned their use in certain areas.

Greg Palm of Presque Isle readies a remote-control, battery-operated, spinning wing Mallard decoy to set among the floating decoys and add some action to the setup.
(Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Another older option for moving decoys is to run a fishing line from three or four floating dekes to a boat or blind and pull on the line to move the fake birds when real ducks approach.  This is called a jerk line and when there’s no natural wind it can make decoys seem alive. Jerk lines set ups are a bit complicated to set out, but worth the effort on calm days. These are not recommended when retrieving dogs are being utilized.

I graduated from jerk lines when “wobble ducks” arrived on the scene. These are the rear half of a duck decoy that floats to replicate a puddle duck feeding with its head and shoulders underwater. Now here’s the ingenious part; at random intervals an inner battery-operated motor kicks on causing the half-duck to vibrate and make ripples. Not only does this simulate a feeding duck, but the expanding ripples cause nearby floating decoys to move about a bit as well.

There are more extraordinary motion devices that are more expensive, more complicated and ultimately more effective. There’s an underwater carousel that rotates several ducks; a splasher, this one floats but rotates its wings to splash water around, and another that floats butt-up and kicks its legs to splash and pulsate. All of these use motion to attract wild waterfowl, but also keep ice from forming in ponds, backwaters and coves when weather is very cold. Ducks and geese always look for open water to rest and relax.

Motion decoys offer attraction to incoming waterfowl while causing a distraction from nearby blinds and hunters, kind of a two for one. It’s more money to invest, more gear to carry and extra equipment to maintain, but the end result is additional gunning and more delicious waterfowl on the dining table. 

So in the end, I guess a bit of movement in the right place at the right time really isn’t a bad thing for duck and goose gunning.

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