So you want to hunt ducks? One of the first investments you’ll need to make is in a rig of decoys. You may have seen videos online of hunters with trailers full of decoys and think, “I could never buy that many.” The good news is you don’t need to. Your first spread should be simple and something you don’t have to worry about as you’re learning the do’s and don’ts of waterfowling. Below are some guidelines to help you get started.
What Species of Duck Decoys Should You Get?
One of the first considerations is species selection. Your spread should look like what you’re going to see in the marsh. If you’re hunting small beaver ponds in the northeast, you’ll want a mix of mallards, wood ducks, and black ducks. If you’re hunting California’s central valley, your spread should have pintails, mallards, and wigeon.
Spread diversity is relative to your area. Start by doing some research on your state’s DNR website, talk to local hunters, and get your boots on the ground to do some scouting. Once you have an idea of the most prevalent species in your area, you’ll know what decoys to buy.
As a rule of thumb, you can’t go wrong with mallard decoys. Fill in your spread with additional species based on observation. Mallards are the most common duck in the country and can be found almost anywhere, so it’s safe to say that mallard decoys will usually get the job done if you’re hunting puddle ducks. As you start to expand your spread, add diversity with other species like wood ducks, gadwall, teal, and pintail depending on what you see.
If you’re hunting diving ducks, the same idea applies. Diver ducks are commonly found in larger bodies of open water in rafts as large as 100 or more. Site selection based on scouting is key here. It’s much easier to decoy birds into a spot where they want to be so find places where ducks like to land before you go hunting. A rig of common diver ducks includes blue bills, redheads, and canvasbacks.
How Many Decoys Should You Buy?
I recommend new hunters start anywhere between a dozen and a dozen and a half decoys for their first rig. This should give you enough decoys to set specific spreads and shoot plenty of birds. Look to purchase a dozen of the most common species in your area (most likely mallards) and fill in the remaining half dozen with other species. Many companies sell a half dozen variety pack based on a region, and these will often include three pairs of different species.
If you live in the northeast and hunt small water, consider adding wood ducks to your spread. Avery
What Decoy Brands Are Best for Beginners?
Which company you purchase your decoys from isn’t as important as just getting out and hunting. But most waterfowlers have their favorite brand of decoys, and I am no different. My rig consists of a mix and match of brands, including Avery wood ducks, AvianX fully flocked black ducks, and Cabelas northern flight mallards.
I recommend the Cabela’s northern flight mallards as a good starting pack that won’t break the bank. If you want to go a little on the higher end, the AvianX Top-Flight mallard decoys are also a great choice. I tend to lean towards AvianX and Tanglefree, as they both produce quality equipment.
How to Choose the Right Anchors, Weights, and Lines
After you buy your decoys, you will want to think about a weight system. You can find decoy lines at most outdoor retailers and on Amazon. Through trial and error, I’ve found tarred braided nylon line to be the best for me. I run most of my mallard and black duck decoys at a minimum of 7 feet because I hunt in tidal marshes with significant water fluctuations. If you’re hunting small creeks, flooded fields, or shallow wetlands, 4-6 feet of line for each decoy should do fine. Just keep in mind water depth and adjust accordingly. I like to use J-hook or mushroom anchors paired with a stretch cord for easy rigging. The stretch cord allows you to hook the anchor to the keel and avoid tangles while transporting your decoys.
How to Add Motion to a Decoy Spread
Adding motion to your decoys is a great way to make your spread come alive. Spinner and rippler decoys will do the trick and draw attention your way. These decoys tend to be a little expensive, and if you’re looking for a cheaper option, a classic jerk cord will suffice.
A jerk cord consists of one to three decoys attached to an extra-long line, anchored to a heavy weight. The line is then passed back through to the blind, allowing you to pull on it and move the decoys when ducks are flying overhead. This sends ripples out which animates your entire spread and makes it highly visible from above. On calm, bluebird days, motion in your spread can be the difference between firing the gun and watching birds from a distance.