Duck Decoying Strategies to Bag More Birds

Written by John N. Felsher | Photos by John N. Felsher

With increasing pressure on waterfowl, waterfowlers need to dig deeper into their bag of tricks to bring more birds closer.

Across North America, most waterfowlers probably use mallard decoys. Mallards flying over a pond expect to see big orange feet glowing like beacons in the water. Most decoys don’t come with feet, so glue two strips of orange ribbon to the decoys to simulate legs in the water. Tip each ribbon with a small sinker to hold it down.

In flooded potholes surrounded by timber like this one near Eufaula, Alabama, waterfowlers normally kill mallards and wood ducks, so use those decoy types.

Any duck species will come to mallards, but when too many people use them, ducks learn to avoid green heads. Instead, match decoys to the species ducks would expect to see in that area. Cluster species together with some separation from others. Leave enough open water at optimum shooting range where newcomers can land.

“I like to mix up my species, but that depends upon what I find in scouting,” advised Jacob Sartain of Jackson, Mississippi. “If I see mostly gadwalls, I’ll use gadwall decoys, but I might use some other decoys as well just to give the spread some diversity.”

Pintail decoys, like these in the marshes of Cameron Parish south of Lake Charles, Louisiana, show a lot of white, making them highly visible from long distances.

Gadwalls, pintails, canvasbacks, scaup and wigeons exhibit considerable white coloration. These decoys stand out from long distances, even on dark, dreary days. Often held in disdain because of their less desirable tablefare, shovelers also show some white. They bring in the birds, precisely because so few people use them. Incoming ducks can easily spot their distinctive spoon-shaped bills.

In places frequented by coots, add a few coot decoys. Place coots away from the ducks. Put some at extreme range to serve as shooting marks. Add a couple “confidence decoys,” such as a blue heron or white egret standing on a shoreline. These add color and the illusion of safety. Ducks see wading birds all the time and know they don’t like to hang around people with shotguns.

In recent decades, nothing revolutionized waterfowling more than electronic decoys that add motion to still waters. These devices worked fabulously when first introduced, but lose some effectiveness when too many hunters use them. These still bring in birds, especially where few others use them.

Like a lone sentinel, a blue heron “confidence” decoy overlooks a decoy spread in the marshes of Cameron Parish south of Lake Charles, Louisiana. “Confidence decoys” complete the illusion of safety. Ducks know herons don’t like to hang around people with guns.

The most popular motion decoys employ spinning wings to create flash. That flash resembles wings flapping at great distances. Where legal, place spinners facing into the wind, but off to one side. Never put them directly in front of the blind. The motion draws birds’ attention. Force birds to focus outside the blind so they don’t see people inside the blind.

Waterfowlers can also add movement with old-fashioned jerk cords. A jerk cord consists of one or more decoys anchored to the bottom and tied to a string stretching back to the blind. Pulling the string makes the decoys bob up and down, creating lifelike rippling in the water.

To set up a jerk cord, secure a pulley or wire hoop device to the bottom about 30 to 35 yards out in the pond. Run a dark or camouflaged sinking cord through the pulley and attach one or more decoys to the line so that the decoys dip into the water like feeding ducks when someone pulls the cord. Some people add a small, light bungee cord to make the decoy snap back into place. Some companies sell jerk cord kits containing everything one needs to get started.

Hunters in Oklahoma kill a lot of wigeons, mallards, pintails and gadwalls. Therefore, hunters in the area commonly used mixed species of decoys in their spreads.

In places with both ducks and geese, a few goose decoys could give ducks a more secure feeling since geese typically remain extremely wary, more so than ducks. Place geese decoys on a mudflat or dry land off to one side by themselves. 

“We hunt specklebellies in the same places we hunt mallards and often kill them both on the same days,” stated Erik Rue of Calcasieu Charter Service in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “We’ll put out a mix of duck and speck decoys. Sometimes, we’ll put out some white goose decoys to add a few snows to the bag while hunting ducks and specks.”

In any spread, change things periodically so ducks see something different each day. As the season progresses, use fewer decoys since large flocks break up into smaller groups by late season. A handful of the right decoys in a secret pothole could produce excellent results.

John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer and editor. An avid sportsman, he’s written more than 3,500 articles for more than 170 different magazines on a wide variety of outdoors topics. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at or through Facebook.



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