We all have that waterfowling buddy who moves the duck decoys incessantly, always looking for something to tweak. It might not even be legal shooting light yet but they’ve rearranged the spread five times. If you don’t have that friend, you probably are that friend. But since the goal is convincing ducks that you’re a duck, there’s a good argument for leaving no stone unturned. Frankly, from plastic corn cobs to “stuffer” spreads (entire decoy arrays made of taxidermied birds), there’s no limit to what waterfowlers will try. Here are a few under-utilized arrangements that you should try out this season—so long as you don’t shift in the middle of the morning flight.
The Water Goose Spread One of the most underrated duck spreads out there is a floater goose spread. For years, I did what many hunters do: I put the duck decoys square in front of the blind with a half dozen goose decoys off to the side. Many times over the years, ducks would land wide of the main spread, right with the goose decoys. I recognized that the ducks were landing with the goose decoys, but I misinterpreted why. I thought it was because the ducks were wary and didn’t want to commit. It was only when I started hunting with Bill Willroth, owner of Dakota Decoy and one of my hunting mentors, that I realized the power of goose decoys as a duck attractors.
“Duck hunters tend to run their goose decoys off to the side of the duck decoys just in case a goose comes by, and what ends up happening is the ducks land with the geese,” Willroth said. “I tell hunters all the time our best duck decoys are goose decoys. We actually run our spinners right in the goose decoys.”
Bill is a believer in centering your spread around those goose decoys. But there’s some irony to the strategy; geese don’t like to fly over duck decoys.
“There are times when the geese tend to avoid the duck decoys,” Willroth said. “When we set up for geese, we run our duck decoys off to the side of the goose decoys.”
The Hidden Spread Most of the time, duck hunters aim for the spread to be highly visible. As a result, they commonly use big decoy arrays in easy-to-see areas like peninsulas on water or hilltops in fields. But when the birds get stale, you might want to change it up.
Ducks facing high hunting pressure will start finding small hidden pockets of habitat where nobody bothers them. If you find this hideout, you need to understand two things: duck behavior and your goal with the decoy spread. Typically, ducks first land in open water then swim into cover as they get comfortable. Since you’re in this spot because the ducks are already using it, your goal is to reassure them it’s safe.
To replicate ducks at ease, I spread the decoys throughout the edge of the vegetation with lots of distance in between decoys and no emphasis on visibility. I also like to put just a single or pair of decoys in the open water to direct them where to land, but I let the safety of the spot speak for itself. Some of the best decoying I’ve ever had was using this strategy. Many times the birds don’t even flare when you stand up to shoot.
While we have a slightly different styles, this is a strategy I’ve seen Willroth use too: “I run decoys right up to the edge of the cattails. If at all possible, we also run the spinners right in the vegetation,” Willroth said. “It still allows the ducks to see the flash but tends to hide them a bit, and we’ve found it to be really effective.”
The Spinner Extravaganza While the previous two spreads are based on water hunting, this spread is for field hunting. Ducks in dry fields and spinning-wing decoys go together like peas and carrots, and chances are you won’t find a field duck hunter leaving home without them. But even with these solid reputation in the fields, many hunters cap how many “spinners” they put out at once. While you don’t need to go above and beyond every time out, I do think there are specific times you need to throw the kitchen sink at the birds. Namely, when you’re “running traffic” on ducks.
When there’s no way to hunt the feed field, I get between the roost and the feed and put out a truckload of spinners. The goal is to look like a new feed field, creating enough commotion and visibility that the birds can’t avoid bombing in for a look. To put my money where my mouth is, I’ve put out 23 spinning-wing decoys on one traffic hunt. While it sounds extreme, 23 spinners would only be a flock of 23 ducks, arguably on the smaller side of flocks for real ducks in the wild. One thing I recommend is to have your spinners synced to remotes if you’re using motorized models. Once the ducks are committed, turning off a lot of the spinners can help finish the flock to the last 30 yards.
These spread ideas are unconventional to many, but they’re as standard in my repertoire as the tried-and-true U-shape. Once you add them to your kit of tactics, you’ll test new waters in duck behavior and get results that you might not learn by sticking to the classics.