When was the last time you saw a flat-gray living drake mallard with mud on his head?
Ducks preen and clean themselves for hours each day, and your decoys should be as clean and colorful as they are. Otherwise, the birds are apt to circle high until your dingy flotilla spooks them away.
To give your blocks a preening, start with a large tub, a half cup of dishwashing liquid, and a stiff-bristled brush. Scrub hard, then rinse thoroughly to remove all grit, soap residue, and paint flakes.
If a decoy has holes in it (perhaps from last season's cripple chase), mark them with a grease pencil. If need be, stab a new hole in the top of the deke's head with an ice pick to drain any water. (You'll repair this hole with the others, but even if your fix doesn't hold, a hole in the head won't sink your decoy.) Once it's thoroughly dry, close all holes with clear silicone caulk or a hot-glue gun.
Now it's time to prime. Scruff up the area you plan to paint with 40-grit sandpaper. Dust off any particulate matter and finish liberally with acetone, making sure to follow all handling instructions on the package.
Primer is the bond that keeps the paint on. Without it you might as well not bother sprucing up your birds. Parker Coatings makes an excellent oil-based primer that's available online or from waterfowling catalogs (800-236-9676; www.parkercoatings.com).
Once this base coat is completely dry, you can apply the paint. Any high-quality oil-based satin paint out of a spray can or kit will do nicely. Coloring decoys is a learned skill, but it only takes a few to get the hang of it.
Finally, finish with an oil-based satin polyurethane, right out of a spray can. Your dekes will sport a natural sheen, not a wet gloss, for a durable finish and easier cleanup. And your newly gleaming spread will bring those high-circling ducks down.